Sunday, January 31, 2016

Kakushka


Kukushka
Russian for cuckoo bird.

That was the nickname the KGB gave to Svetlana, youngest child and only daughter of Josef Stalin, when she defected to the USA in 1967.

I’ve done previous posts about those cuckoo birds in the former Soviet Union. Cuckoos will lay their eggs in other birds’ nests and let their young be raised by foster parents.

Rosemary Sullivan’s biography, Stalin’s Daughter, is a fascinating psychological and historical study—even if at times I found myself frustrated with Svetlana’s choices.  Margaret Trudeau’s memoir Changing my Mind is fresh in my memory, and I can’t helped but suspect that Svetlana had bipolar. Her mood swings, her impulsivity, her instability—yes, she was Stalin’s daughter—but that can’t account for the entire confusion of her life. Can it? 

It’s too bad that Sullivan chose to title this book, “Stalin’s Daughter.” It seems so exploitive and insensitive to what her subject would have wanted. Svetlana tried all her life to escape that label and now in death it haunts her still. I heard Sullivan talk at the Winnipeg International Writers’ Festival last fall and she admitted that Svetlana wouldn’t like the title. Maybe it was a publishing decision—a business move. Publishing is about making money.

Svetlana died, penniless (as if that matters, once you’re dead!) and in obscurity, in Wisconsin in 2012.  She would have been the same age as my aunt, who was also born in 1926, in the former Soviet Union.  Svetlana’s father, Stalin, arranged for my own grandfather’s execution during the paranoia of the 1937/8 Great Terror. My aunt and Svetlana would each have been eleven years old at the time. One had a father who killed millions. The other had a father who was one of millions killed. Of course who their fathers were affected who they became. Of course.

Why would people ever ask if history matters? History is who we are.

After reading this book, I can only say, wow, she was so naïve and trusting and good (in spite of who her father was). And that controlling, money-hungry woman, Olgivanna Wright, running the Taliesin West retreat for architecture sounded like an absolute terror to someone as vulnerable as Svetlana. The American man she married, Wes Peters, under Olgivanna’s power, was a money-loving wimp. Svetlana looked for love in all the wrong places. A sad life. I hope she found serenity in the end. 

All in all, a fascinating, page-turner for a Russophile. 

2 comments:

MaryLou Driedger said...

I found this fascinating. Dave and I toured Taliesin West when we were in Arizona. We had become interested in Frank Lloyd Wright after reading his biography by Nancy Horan in our book club in Hong Kong. That book focuses more on his relationship with Mamah Borthwick. Olgivanna was mentioned however and I had forgotten about the Stalin's daughter piece. Stalin's Daughter sounds almost too sad a book to read from your description.
This is what I wrote after visiting Taliesin West.
https://maryloudriedger2.wordpress.com/2012/02/15/taliesin-west-frank-lloyd-wright-in-arizona/

MaryLou Driedger said...

I found this fascinating. Dave and I toured Taliesin West when we were in Arizona. We had become interested in Frank Lloyd Wright after reading his biography by Nancy Horan in our book club in Hong Kong. That book focuses more on his relationship with Mamah Borthwick. Olgivanna was mentioned however and I had forgotten about the Stalin's daughter piece. Stalin's Daughter sounds almost too sad a book to read from your description.
This is what I wrote after visiting Taliesin West.
https://maryloudriedger2.wordpress.com/2012/02/15/taliesin-west-frank-lloyd-wright-in-arizona/