Everyone is talking about the death of Lana Peters neé Svetlana Stalin, the daughter of one of the 20th centuries most harmless doves, Joseph Stalin.
I haven’t been able to join in on the conversation because Tumblr was down for me yesterday. But now, I’m back.
Svetlana was born in 1926 to the Stalin and Nadezhda Alliluyeva, his second wife. She was his fifth child.
From a young age, she was worshipped by her father, because, according to her, “I looked like his mother.” That meant that she had red hair and freckles, and clearly (am I wrong?) was probably of hidden Jewish descent.
She was raised by nannies, and saw her father very infrequently when she was growing up, unless he was parading her around to world leaders and friends. “My little boss,” he called her affectionately. “My little sparrow.”
When Svetlana was six, her mother shot herself in the head. According to sources, her relationship with Stalin was quite vile. He did loving things like drag her by her hair out onto the dance floor at parties. After her suicide, he “disappeared” a number of her family members, and tried to make it seem like she died from a burst appendix.
Svetlana did not learn of Nadezhda’s death until she saw her body being lowered into the ground, which must have been psychologically damaging. Unless certain sources are to believed, in which case, Svetlana very infrequently saw her mother, and when she did, was treated very coldly.
Svetlana grew up as the Little Princess of her father’s domain. She was the Annie to his Daddy Warbucks. She was the Kim Jong-un to his Kim Jong-il. She was the Gulnara Karimova to Islam Karimov, only in that case, not many people know what the fuck I’m talking about.
She claims that the two greatest rifts with her father occurred when he wouldn’t let her study art and literature, forcing her instead to learn Marxist history, and when he wouldn’t let her marry Alekser Kapler, a 40-year-old filmmaker. At the time, she was 16. Stalin promptly relocated Alekser to the industrial city Vorkata near the Arctic Circle. “I don’t want you to be a Bohemian,” Daddy said to his sparrow.
I guess the rifts were so bad that Svetlana never got over them. When she was a 17, she married a fellow student, Grigory Morozov. They had a son, Iosif, but soon after, divorced.
When she was 23, her father was like, enough of this bullshit, and forced her to marry Yur Zhdanov, the son of his right hand man Andrei Zhdanov. They had a daughter, Yekaterina, a year later. Soon after, the marriage dissolved.
It wasn’t until after her father’s death in 1953 that she met the man who helped her to escape from the Soviet Union. His name was Brajesh Singh, and he was an Indian communist, and a doctor. He removed her tonsils in 1963. Their story was a real romance, doomed from the beginning, because he had acute emphesyma. He died three years after they met.
At the time, Svetlana was 41. Upon his death, she carried Brajesh’s ashes to the Ganges, with KGB minders in tow, and then stayed in Kalakankar, his hometown, for 8 months. It was here that she approached the US Consulate, and begged for political asylum. The ambassador, recognizing an opportunity for a media frenzy about the evils of communism, granted it to her. He’s was like, “Yeah sure, why not, we’ll fly you straight to New York.”
Svetlana left her two children behind, and never looked back…until she almost ran out of money.
In Russia, you think you’re the Shirley Temple of the Kremlin, and then you emerge into the real world, where all of a sudden you realize: “No one gives a shit about me, all anyone can talk about is fucking Anastasia Romanov.”
Because Svetlana’s fifteen minutes of fame really only lasted a few years, and no one made a movie staring Ingrid Bergman about her.
But at first, life was good for the little boss. “The United States is so free, gay, and full of bright colors!” she declared. Has anyone ever denounced communism with more eloquent phrasing?
She wrote two books, Twenty Letters to a Father and Only One Year, the sale of which made her something like $2.5 million. Arthur Schlensinger Jr., with nothing to do now that Kennedy was dead, wrote a review for it in The Atlantic.
I’m imagining what life was like for Svetlana in New York, and I’m seeing some parallels with Carmen Bin Laden, Osama’s ex-sister-in-law. She wrote a book Inside the Kingdom about life with the Bin Ladens, which I read, enraptured and standing up, in the Barnes & Noble on 57th street during my lunch breaks from the gallery where I was working when I first moved to New York. Highly recommend.
In 1970, Svetlana received a letter from Frank Lloyd Wright’s widow, Olgivanna, herself a Russian, inviting her to Taliesin, the deceased architect’s summer home.
Svetlana agreed to come. When she arrived, she met William Peters, who had been Lloyd Wright’s “right-hand man.” In the tradition of getting with the right hand men of tyrants, she married him.
They had a daughter, and divorced soon after, because Svetlana claimed that life in the cult-like atmosphere of Taliesin, where Frank’s followers flocked, was just as bad as life under her father in the Soviet regime.
It was around this time that Svetlana, now Lana Peters, began to slip into obscurity. In other words, the money she made from writing books dried up.
In 1982, she moved to the United Kingdom. In 1984, denouncing Western life, she returned to the Soviet Union. In 1986, she “fueded with relatives,” and returned back to the United States, where she settled into a life of relative obscurity in Wisconsin.
She died on November 22, 2011, from colon cancer.
For you, Svetlana. For the funny parallels that can be made between you and the movie “The Little Princess.” For loving your father, and believing he wasn’t an evil man, just a man who did evil things. For being kind of bad ass with your lovers. For having a Russian temper, for being a “political prisoner” of your father’s name, for in many ways, being the most interesting icon I’ve done for months. For you, Lana Peters neé Svetlana Stalin, you’re my icon of the week.