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The Red Daughter by John Burnham Schwartz

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1967 – the year we celebrated ourselves in Canada with Expo ’67 – and the year that Svetlana Stalin – known as Svetlana Alliluyeva – defected from the Soviet Union to the United States of America. Those of us who are old enough to remember these events will recall that time as we read the Red Daughter by John Burnham Schwartz.

John Burnham Schwartz has written a captivating novel based on the life of this fascinating woman. We meet her first on board a Swiss Air flight from Zurich to Kennedy Airport in New York City. She is accompanied by a young American, they travel in first class luxury, as Mr and Mrs Staehelin. But, we will come to know her as Lana Evans for most of the novel.

Though the author is very well familiar with the true life of his subject he has taken the liberty of a novelist and played fast and loose with much of the story. Since I knew next to nothing about Svetlana, it was not until I finished the novel and did a little research into her life that I discovered what was fact and what was fiction. If you are not bothered by the fictionalization of such a well known person I trust you will enjoy this novel as much as I did.

Svetlana’s life in the Soviet Union, as the only daughter of Joseph Stalin was not an easy one – nor was the life she came to in the United States easy. She was forever the daughter of one of the world’s most reviled dictators.

Her life was tumultuous and makes for a great read. The constant in the novel is her connection to the man who was Mr. Staehelin, her lawyer and faithful friend, Peter Horvath. The point of view seamlessly alternates between Lana and Peter, as we move forward from their arrival in the United States through the rest of their lives.

Lana Evans was both dependent and fiercely independent – she lived on both coasts, and in the mid-west, for a period of time on the estate of Taliesin West in Arizona, with the widow of Frank Lloyd Wright. A time during which she found love, and became more and more American, though she missed the children she left behind in the Soviet Union.

Svetlana went on to live in England, and again in the Soviet Union, years that are documented in the novel. This woman’s life was truly fascinating as is the afterword where the author reveals his own connection to the story.

 

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