Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Red Daughter by John Burnham Schwartz, a novel of Svetlana Alliluyeva, Stalin's only daughter

As in The Commoner (2008), modeled on Japan’s empress, Schwartz again demonstrates his adroitness at illustrating the troubled lives of high-profile twentieth-century women.

His new subject is Svetlana Alliluyeva, Stalin’s daughter, whose defection to the U.S. in 1967 drew international attention and furor. Schwartz has a personal connection, since his lawyer father brought Alliluyeva to America under CIA cover, but his personality and role have been fictionalized.

In Schwartz’s variation, in private journals left to her former lawyer, Peter Horvath, Svetlana details her itinerant life, attempts to become Americanized, and feels guilt over abandoning her adult children, whom she had hoped to liberate from her past. An unlikely correspondence leads her to an Arizona-based group of Frank Lloyd Wright acolytes whose repressive commune, ruled by Wright’s widow, feels very Russian.

Strong-willed and needy, Svetlana grows close to Peter, straining his relationship with his wife. What she doesn’t reveal is also illuminating; we learn almost nothing of her earlier marriages.

A perceptive exploration of identity, motherhood, and how one woman valiantly tried to shed the heavy mantle of her father’s infamous legacy.

I reviewed The Red Daughter for the March 1 issue of Booklist, and the novel will be published by Random House on April 29th.

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