The Life of a Century

She was the only daughter of one of the most famous and ruthless tyrants in history. She said she was doted upon, and only once did her father threaten to hit her, but when at 16 she fell in love with a 40 year-old filmmaker he was banished to Siberia.

Her mother committed suicide because of her father’s cruelty. So did a half-brother and, arguably, her elder brother. She authored books and mixed in the Soviet Union’s highest official intellectual circles. She even had a perfume named after her - (Svetlana’s Breath). And, in 1967 and at the age of 41, Stalin’s daughter Svetlana Alliluyeva became one of the most famous defectors in the history of the Cold War. Her subsequent life would last another 44 years, outlasting the Soviet Union itself, only to end yesterday.

The defection was organised by the CIA from India, where Svetlana had travelled to bury the ashes of her lover, an Indian man she referred to as a husband despite having been denied permission to marry him. She left two children behind in the Soviet Union, with whom she would remain permanently estranged despite a brief return to the USSR in the mid-1980s. At a press conference in New York soon after her defection, she said of her infamous father in a press conference, “I loved him, I respected him, and when we was gone I have lost maybe a lot of faith, just personal faith and respect. Of course I disapprove many things [about Stalin], but I think that many other people who still are in our Central Committee and Politburo should be responsible for the same things for which he alone was accused. And if I feel somebody [is] responsible for those horrible things - killing people, unjustice [sic] - I feel that responsible for this was and is the party, the regime and the ideology as a whole.”

Following her defection, she briefly married an architect and engineer closely tied to the Taliesin West headquarters of Modernist architect Frank Lloyd Wright. When she returned to the USSR, she disavowed her time in the west, but family ructions caused her to return to the US shortly after. She settled in small-town Wisconsin where, over the years, Svetlana became increasingly reclusive. In a documentary she complained of the burden of the expectations of others: “I’m neither this nor that. I’m somewhere in between. And that ‘somewhere in between’ people don’t get.”

This sad news comes the day after a Wall Street Journal look at the children of China’s ruling class.

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