These letters were written in the summer of 1963 by Svetlana the daughter of daughter Josef Stalin. They took her thirty five days and she chose the form of a letter to a friend because “I should like the reader of these letters to feel they were written to him.”
Svetlana lived through some of the most turbulent and horrific events of the twentieth century in Russia. What is fascinating however is that she considers that “the life I’ve led has been unusually dull and monotonous for one of my generation.” She explains that this is so because she took no part in WW2 and was too young to be involved in the revolution of 1918. Her life in the Kremlin was a sheltered one. Even when she managed to go to university she was shadowed by her bodyguard until finally she complained to her father and was allowed a measure of independence.
What I find most interesting about this book, is the picture she paints of her father. As a child she was his favourite, petted and spoiled while her mother was the strict parent with rigid standards that had to be adhered too. In spite of this, however, Svetlana acknowledges his faults and what comes across most chillingly is the way that once Stalin made up his mind, there was no swaying him. Even if a friend or family member was accused, with no evidence to back up the accusation, if Stalin decided that was true, the accused would be executed or imprisoned without any hope of mercy and justice.
In this grim world, it was difficult to believe that the communists had started with such idealism and high hopes for a better society. There was a real belief, the early days, in freedom, education and equality, but as time went on the author charts how this was eroded by the rise of a powerful elite and how Stalin’s close friends, associates and members of his family paid the price for their beliefs.
Unexpectedly, the book ends on a positive note “Everything on our tormented earth that is alive and breathes, that blossoms and bears fruit, live only by virtue of and in the name of Reason and Good.”
I found “Twenty Letters to a Friend” on the bookshelf at Mum’s and was keen to read about a period in history that I had written about in “Shadows on the Grass.” Part of that novel is set in Poland in WW2 when the Russians invaded the city of Lwow.
Svetlana Alliluyeva’s account of that era in Russia is one most of us know little about and
and I highly recommend this book.