When I found out that she wrote books, the first thought I had was they must be fascinating. After all, she probably was right there during World War II, (especially from one,myself, whose mostly heard of the Second World War from my late-Father [1927-2010], who 14th Birthday was what we now call--Pearl Harbor Day--a.k.a. 70 years ago today.) when her father was the one of the big three leaders who met with Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Not only that, but she imigrated to the U.S. in 1967, during the Cold War and during the aftermath of the McCarthy era and when the 'Baby Boomer's' were still just beginning to rebel against the Vietnam War.
I cannot say that I remember much about that time. After all, I was only a child, so for me it is fascinating to go back and study, with now the mature understanding mind, the things I vaguely remember, but was too young to understand as a child
As Mme. Svetlana Alliluyeva wrote in the book jacket-->
Let the judging be done by those who come later, by men and women who didn't know the times and the people to whom these years in Russia will be as remote and inexplicable,as terrible and strange, as the reign of Ivan the Terrible. But I do not think they'll say it was all for the 'good of Russia.' Hardly . . . .
They will have their say. And what they say will be something new and cogent. Instead of idle whining, they will give voice to a new sense of purpose. They will read through this page in their country's history with a feeling of pain, contrition and bewilderment, and they'll be led by this feeling to live their lives differently.
But I hope they won't forget that what is Good never dies--that it lived on in the hearts of men even in the darkest times and as hidden where no one thought to look for it, that it never died out or disappeared completely.
Everything on our tormented earth that is alive and breathes, that blossoms and bears fruit, lives only by virtue of and in the name of Truth and Good.
These are the concluding sentences of an extraordinary work. The author has used on the oldest and most flexible literary forms-the letter to an unidentified friend, who is, essentially, each reader of her book-to relate te harrowing journey of one soul, one consciousness, through three dark decades of a totalitarian tyranny which sowed terror throughout an entire notion and reached into every corner of her personal life.
From the death of her father, Josef Stalin, in 1953, and her 'double' life in the decade that followed-outwardly fortunate, inwardly tormented--Mme Alliluyeva casts back to her unclouded childhood in the tranquil household created by her mother, and to her mother's gifted and close knit family. She tells her mother's story, from her prerevolutionary girlhood, through the intensifying conflict with her husband over his political actions and intentions, to the terrible--and , the author feels, inevitable--outcome: her mother's suicide. Svetlana was six years old. Bleak changes followed. The secret police replaced her mother's presence in her family circle as Russia moved through the thirties into war. She saw less and less of her father, and her chronicles of their last meetings--in 1951 and 1952--is filled with pain.
But remarkably, in this narrative of fear, torment, oppression, tragedy. two characters radiant with goodness convey, as in a great opera, the ultimately affirming theme. They are the author's mother, her nature candid, sunlit and life-giving, and the nurse who shielded Svetlana for thirty years--a woman of the people, full of gaiety and kindness, wisdom and quiet optimism, 'like a big Russian stove.' a peasant trained in the noble houses of prerevolu-tionary St. Petersburg whose life bridged two eras, and who symbolizes for author and reader alike the enduring vitality, generosity and beauty of the Russian land. The author's deeply religious patriotism, her inextinguishable love for her country--and passages in which she reflects on Nature, on her children, on peace and God. The exultant tons of these chapters acts as counterpoint to and commentary on the dark record of terrible events.
Second only to the strong emotional identification the reader feels with the woman who tells her story here is the powerful--in truth, the astounding-revelation of an unknown and all but unimaginable way of life. One is set down among people whose attitudes, reactions and expectations, formed by social conditions and a history totally unlike our own, impress us on every page with their difference and thereby set us on the path to understanding. It may be that the most lasting value of Twenty Letters to a Friend will prove to be the light it throws on the necessities and motivations which have shaped today's Russia and which are so much more 'foreign' to our own experience than most of us have heretofore surmised.