Few histories are as harsh as that of Russia, and Lana Peters, who began her life as Svetlana Stalina and d*ed at age 85 on 22 November 2011, felt it more than others. Being the daughter of the Soviet tyrant Stalin was a burden in and of itself, but growing up during her time proved to be terrible.
Her mother, Nadezhda Alliluyeva, Stalin’s second wife, committed herself when she was six years old. She has three divorced marriages. She lost her fiancé. She fled the Soviet Union in 1967, returned in 1984, and left once more in 1989.
Hinduism, Christian Science, a cabin in Wisconsin, a Roman Catholic convent in Switzerland, a house in Bristol, and a care home in west London were among the many residences, continents, and religions she tried. She assumed numerous guises during that time, including a young princess, a famous defector, an architect’s wife, a repentant mother who had left her children, and an elderly woman in need.
She rarely experienced calm. The popular author of 20 Letters to a Friend (1967) and Just One Year (1969), Peters found it difficult to capture the important events of her tumultuous world travels in words.
When she arrived in New York in April 1967, she voluntarily joined the cold war propaganda machine by branding her father a moral and spiritual monster, publicly destroying her Soviet passport, and criticizing the Soviet government. Yet when she voluntarily returned 17 years later, the same event happened backward.
She held a news conference to clarify that she was not returning to Moscow for political reasons but to mend fences with the son and daughter she had left behind all those years earlier. That had a poor outcome. In an interview with Raymond Anderson, a former Moscow correspondent of the New York Times, she explained:
“I said that ‘Everyone was nice to me – I was a pet.’ The word ‘pet’ was translated as ‘pet dog of the CIA’. To this was added formulas like ‘I was constantly supervised by the CIA,’ or ‘I was under constant pressure from the CIA.’ This was something I never said … My words at the Moscow news conference were turned into propaganda cliches.”
The bare-bones puritanism, or what was known as the “socialist simplicity,” of the 1930s was a far cry from the Moscow she returned to. Svetlana had a difficult upbringing. She rose to fame after being portrayed as Stalin’s favorite bird, his tiny sparrow, and hundreds of children were given her name.
And a perfume was. But she had a different life than a princess who watched American movies. She learned that her mother had d*ed with appendicitis when she was six. Alliluyeva had been coerced into committing su*cide by Stalin. Everyone was required to labor hard and exhibit “iron discipline” during the Second World War.
As his father declined to exchange him for Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus, who had been captured at Stalingrad, her half-brother Yakov was taken prisoner by the Nazis and perished in the Sachsenhausen detention camp. Her brother Vasili became an alcoholic because his father primarily prevented him from pursuing his dream of being a heroic jet pilot.
When de-Stalinization began, Svetlana felt it was unfair that all of the atrocities committed during the Stalinist era were placed on the man himself because the siblings had grown up somewhat protective of their father. A prime example is Sergei Kirov’s assassination in 1934, which sparked a series of events that led to the Great Te*ror.
Once her mother passed away, Svetlana tried unsuccessfully again and over to remove the loneliness that had plagued her upbringing. Her first love, a filmmaker, spent ten years in Siberia. She was permitted to wed Grigory Morozov, but their marriage ended in 1947.
To win over her father, she wed Yuri Zhdanov, the son of Andrei, her father’s right-hand man, in a second marriage. That also came to an end shortly after. She fell in love with Brijesh Singh, an Indian communist, in the 1960s. While she was denied permission to wed him, in 1967, she was permitted to transport his cremated remains to India.
Svetlana entered the US embassy in New Delhi after arriving in India and asked for political asylum. In 1970, she started her catastrophic fourth union. Svetlana met and wed William Peters, the principal architect of Frank Lloyd Wright, after being invited to Arizona by the architect’s widow, who thought she was the reincarnation of her daughter.
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After 20 months of it, the couple divorced in 1973. Her last years as Lana Peters were spent traveling and committing act after act of disappearance. Although the Russia she knew and still fantasized about—the Russia of lakes, natural wilderness, and a kind father with a tickly mustache—was now lost, one of memory’s cruelest tricks—she ultimately appeared to have concluded that relocating to America was a mistake.
Iosif, her son from her first marriage, predeceased her. She is survived by her daughters Olga, from her marriage to Peters, and Yekaterina, from her second marriage. Yekaterina resides in Kamchatka in eastern Siberia and studies volcanoes.
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