The Sunday Magazine

"Stalin's Daughter" wins another major award

Rosemary Sullivan's biography of Svetlana Stalin reads like a political thriller.
This April 1967 file photo shows the daughter of Joseph Stalin, Lana Peters, who was previously known as Svetlana Alliluyeva Stalin. Peters passed away on Nov. 22, 2011, following a battle with cancer. (File/The Associated Press)

Rosemary Sullivan's biography of Svetlana Stalin has won yet another major award. In addition to winning the 2016 RBC Taylor Prize, the 2016 BC National Book Award for Canadian Nonfiction, and the 2015 Hilary Weston Prize, Ms. Sullivan has just been announced as the first Canadian winner of the American Plutarch Award for Biography for Stalin's Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva

Ms. Sullivan spoke to Michael Enright about her biography of Ms. Stalin, in June of 2015. She returned in January 2016, when the University of Toronto's Thomas Fischer Rare Book Library acquired some important letters; exchanges between Ms. Alliluyeva and her close friend, British art historian Mary Burkett.

Joseph Stalin's only daughter, and favourite child, was known as the "Kremlin Princess", but her life was anything but storybook.

Svetlana Stalin was born in 1926, two years into her father's brutal reign. Her mother committed suicide by shooting herself through the heart when Svetlana was only a child.

She was a loyal young Communist until her teens, but when she was old enough to understand the enormity of his crimes against humanity, she rejected her father.  She later wrote that he "knew what he was doing" and that she didn't believe "he ever suffered any pangs of conscience".  

Joseph Stalin climbed to the top of the Soviet Union's power structure in the early 1920s and ruled with an iron fist until his death three decades later. Stalin became one of the world's most notorious and brutal dictators, purging "enemies of the state" and killing millions through forced collectivization of agriculture. (Hulton Archive/Getty)
After Joseph Stalin died in 1953, Svetlana took her mother's surname, Alliluyeva, but she was never able to expunge her father completely. Deeply damaged by his cruelty, she ricocheted from one broken relationship to another, squandering a fortune in the process.

Svetlana's story, including her dramatic defection from the Soviet Union in 1967, is the subject of an intriguing new book by acclaimed Canadian biographer, Rosemary Sullivan. Stalin's Daughter, the Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva reads like a political thriller, a portrait of a woman who lived an endlessly complicated life "at the centre of the maelstrom of the century".


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