Only One Year – Svetlana Alliluyeva

This is an autobiography by the daughter of Stalin.  It covers one year of her life when she went from Moscow, to India, from where she defected, to Switzerland and finally to USA where she settled for a time.

The book was originally published in 1969 and was written for an American audience at a time when the Cold War was flourishing.  This events in this book may be true but I take Alliluyeva’s view of them with a pinch of salt. She isn’t going to portray her life in USSR as a good one to a US audience and she is going to try to show altruistic motives for the actions she took.

Looking at even a simple Wikipedia biography after reading the book there are some clear inconsistencies in the book; I’m sure it’s a simple oversight to forget to mention your third husband and of course your son and daughter will remain loving and caring when you’ve abandoned them in the Soviet Union and fled to USA.

Cynicism and scepticism out of the way though this is an interesting book.  It can’t have been easy having Joseph Stalin for a parent and it must have been an uneasy time living through the de-Stalinisation programmes of the 1950s and 60s, wondering what the outcome might be for you and your family.

It’s interesting to contrast the different styles of living between USSR, India, Switzerland and USA.  Clearly as a new immigrant Alliluyeva isn’t going to describe USA in negative terms but the descriptions are interesting.

It was also interesting to read descriptions of friends both in Soviet Union and USA.  She clearly had plenty of them.  The Soviet ones read like those of a rebellious teenager; ones her father was likely to disapprove of!  The ones outside the USSR could, if one were cynical, be described as largely people who could see some political or material advantage in being able to say they were friends with Stalin’s daughter.

Looking at biographies, rather than this autobiography, Svetlana Alliluyeva seems to have been a restless person, never really settling anywhere, never really belonging.  I feel some sympathy towards her for that.

I would like to respect her for her courage in defecting to the West in 1969. But, having read this book, a little voice at the back of my brain is asking “was this another teenage-style rebellion? Was it to become an important person again?”

Overall, it’s an interesting view of one person living through the Cold War having seen both sides of the fence. And I still feel conflicted over how much I believe.

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