I conceived of writing my biography of Svetlana Alliluyeva after reading the obituaries that appeared across the world when she died in November 2011. In many of them she was quoted as saying: “Wherever I go, to Australia or some island, I will always be the political prisoner of my father’s name.” What an impossibly dark, brutal shadow to carry for a lifetime! And yet she was also quoted as saying: “You can’t regret your life, though I do regret my mother didn’t marry a carpenter.” To ricochet from tragedy to humour! What could be more compelling? Who would this woman turn out to be?After my New York editor Claire Wachtel at HarperCollins accepted my 20 page proposal, I set out on my detective work: crossing geographies from Moscow and St. Petersburg to Tbilisi and Gori in Georgia, to London, Cambridge, the Lake District, and across the US; researching intelligence files in England and the US and archives in Moscow; meeting Svetlana’s American daughter, and the CIA officer Bob Rayle, who helped her to defect to the US in 1967. In the course of writing the book I interviewed about 40 people, including relatives of Stalin who rarely spoke publicly. It was a great adventure.
I am deeply pleased to come to the Thin Air International Writers Festival. Winnipeg for me is a cultural hub: such great art and home to BorderCrossings, the best art magazine in the country; a history of intellectual ferment that is fascinating; and READERS. I look forward to the company of other writers and to having a great time.