It is not always easy bringing a boyfriend home to meet the folks. Lana Peters was 17 when she announced that she had fallen in love with a Jewish writer, Aleksei Kapler.
Her father, Joseph Stalin, sent Mr. Kapler to a labour camp.
Ms. Peters, who died last week at 85 in her adopted home, Richland Center, Wisc., was an emblem of the 20th century – a witness, a wanderer. Born Svetlana Stalina, she was raised by a man who expunged the most basic freedoms for great swaths of the planet. He built vast prison camps and rewrote the national anthem to include references to himself, while trumpeting the great Soviet experiment that was supposed to remake human nature. Some fathers are tyrants. Then there was Stalin.
Why should we care about the life of Ms. Peters? Because she is a very human reminder of the god that failed. Freedom is oxygen; people can’t live without it. Stalin’s own daughter couldn’t. On a trip to India to deposit her deceased lover’s ashes, she made her way to the U.S. embassy. It was nicely symbolic that love gave her a route to freedom, to life in the West. But she left her two children behind.
On a Voice of America radio program, the Soviet people could hear her praising the U.S. way of life. Her two volumes of autobiography, published in translation soon after she came to the U.S., were bestsellers. She married, had another child, promptly divorced (for the third time). Unable to bring her two Soviet children to the West, she moved back to the Soviet Union in 1984. In the Soviet press, she was quoted as denouncing the West. But soon after, she came back.
Did her father love her? Apparently yes. She had red hair and freckles like his mother. (Her own mother committed suicide when she was 6.) But he was a monster, and she knew it; and though she repudiated him, she could never really be free, anywhere. “I will always be a political prisoner of my father’s name,” she said once. She sought an escape into freedom, into love, but never quite managed it. For years she kept on the move, changing homes, cities, countries. In her old age, she spoke regularly on the telephone with her daughter, who lives in Oregon. She said in an interview last year that she was happy.
A true child of the 20th century, she sought freedom – but was never entirely free.