Monday, April 19, 2010

Finding Lana Peters

Abandoned Head

Only once before has this blog touched upon the life of Svetlana Alliluyeva, daughter of Joseph Stalin and, less famously, Nadezhda Alliluyeva, who died (apparently) by her own hand in 1932. Several months ago I briefly reviewed one of her books that seemed to reveal the soul of a thoughtful but painfully sensitive woman who was doing her best to overcome the bloody legacy of her father's severe rule. Svetlana ended this book with a spiritual journey to scatter the ashes of an elderly husband in his native homeland, India, and a defection to the United States in 1967.

Prior to the time period outlined in this memoir of a single fateful year, Svetlana had fallen in love with a Jewish filmmaker who was sentenced to ten years of difficult exile by her father. Shortly thereafter, Svetlana married a fellow student (also Jewish, and Stalin refused to meet him) but divorced two years later. Soon thereafter, Svetlana married, Yuri Zhdanov, the son of a Stalin crony, Andrei Zhdanov.

Since that time, Wikipedia reveals that Svetlana married Brajesh Singh, sought aslyum in the United States, associated herself with the foreign policy maven George Kennan, and then moved to Scottsdale by invitation of Frank Lloyd Wright's widow. While there, Wikipedia asserts, Wright's widow, a mystic of sorts, encouraged Svetlana to replace her own dead daughter (also named Svetlana) as the wife of Taliesin fellow, William Wesley Peters. She did so, travelling back and forth between Scottsdale and Spring Green, Wisconsin, which is presumably how she wound up living near Madison.

The marriage dissolved, but after two short moves to Great Britain and Georgia, Svetlana returned in Wisconsin, apparently for good. It's hard to imagine Svetlana so close. The feeling can't be too unlike what it must have felt like to have Karensky as a college professor at Stanford in the 1950s. Unfortunately for the woman, the role of Stalin's daughter is awe-inspiring--history incarnate. If it weren't for the fact that Svetlana now understandably shuns public contact of any sort (save for a recently filmed interview), I would be tempted to do a road trip up north one of these days.

I still regret the trip I didn't take to Lawrence Kansas where, inprobably, a high school friend somehow befriended one of my favorite literary heros, William Burroughs. At any rate, in the absence of an invitation to Madison, I'll have to settle for two more of her books, Twenty Letters to a Friend (indirectly dealing with her father's long shadow) and Distant Music (an examination of the Taliesin life with the adopted sobriquet, Lana Peters.)


  1. I saw a doc on Svetlana Alliluyeva on Amazon, "Svetlana About Svetlana", and she is a fascinating person with a sensitive soul and a great story to tell. Some young Russian filmmaker traced her down in Wisconsin. I wish the movie was longer. It made me search for more information on her.

  2. Thanks so much for the post. I'll have to look for that documentary. I was very moved by her book.