Svetlana, the Vozhd, and His Clique

To the surprise of many cognoscenti, a few months ago, historian Richard Pipes gave in “The New York Review of Books,” a highly favorable review to Sheila Fitzpatrick’s refreshing and engagingly written new book “On Stalin’s Team” (Princeton UP, 2015) Now, in TLS (March 4, 2016, pp. 3-5), Rachel Polonsky reviews, in a gripping essay featuring on the front page Svetlana and her father (see picture below), professor Fitzpatrick’s book together with Rosemary Sullivan’s “Stalin’s Daughter” (Harper, 2015) In fact, she writes, Sheila Fitzpatrick migrates, in this volume, from her traditional focus on groups to the exploration of the top Soviet elite, the inner circle around the vozhd. She thought, and definitely was right in so thinking, “that there was a book to write about Soviet high politics that put political science models aside and focused on the individuals and their interactions.” This is an important statement from one of the most adamant critics of the totalitarian model. Her focus here is not on the dictator, but rather on his team, those who caried out, for dacdes, his strategic goals.

As for Rosemary Sullivan’s book, I agree with Rachel Polonsky: it is truly absorbing. Writing myself about two sisters in dark times (a book project, co-authored with political scientist Marius Stan about my mother and her sister), I share Rachel Polonsky’s interrogation: “The genre of biography can involve a different kind of mercilessness. How much are we entitled to know?” The review reads like a Kremlinological thriller: Malenkov, Mikoyan, Khrushchev, Zhdanov, Molotov, Beria, Max Hayward, Andrei Siniavsky, George Kennan, and many others walk within this historical labyrinth and what links all of them is Svetlana, or rather Svetlana’s father…




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