This book was quite fascinating! Fiction written like non-fiction, with a careful balance of facts and imagination. Svetlana Alliluyeva, later known as Lana Evans, was Stalin’s only daughter, and defected to the USA in 1967. It was a huge deal at the time, as one can imagine.
John Burnham Schwartz’s father was the lawyer who accompanied Svetlana Alliluyeva from Switzerland to the US, and the author used this actual event as a basis for his novel. The novel has two narrators, Svetlana Alliluyeva’s voice through her diaries, and the fictional lawyer Peter Horvath’s voice in notes through-out. Some of the characters are fictional (Peter, the CIA minder Dick etc), but others are real people (Frank Lloyd Wright’s widow for example).
The Red Daughter is mainly focused on the time after Svetlana Alliluyeva defects to the US, her life as a Soviet-born woman navigating through the trials of living in the US and understanding the country, the people, the culture, and her own thoughts, needs, and wants. There is however a lot of background information on her life as a child, her father, her mother, brothers, as well as the two children that she left behind in the USSR. As a reader it’s important to set yourself in Svetlana’s shoes, and understand what it would have been like to grow up as Stalin’s daughter. No one was ever safe, even family. But once Svetlana arrives in the US, she is also never really left alone, and one can understand some of the choices that she makes based on this.
I had a personal interest in this story as I grew up alongside the trauma inflicted by Stalin and his regime that has been passed along through generations. (My stepfather’s parents and grandparents were deported from what was Poland at the time to gulags in Siberia, and then left stranded with no home to go back to in the middle of WW2). I was interested in reading more about how Stalin’s existence and legacy would have affected his daughter and her children too, and this book was a great way to learn more about the person Svetlana Alliluyeva was. Obviously The Red Daughter is fiction and poetic license has to be expected, but I think John Burnham Schwartz did a great job depicting life in the USSR at the time, and staying truthful to the facts and the person that Svetlana Alliluyeva was.
Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the advance copy of this wonderful book!