You think you know the story of Stalin until you read about the extraordinary life of his daughter Svetlana

HARI SREENIVASAN: Now, the latest addition to the "NewsHour" Bookshelf.

She was born into a life of privilege amidst terror. Her father was distant, and, one by one, those closest to her vanished, until she herself defected leaving part of her family behind in the Soviet Union.

Her story is told in the new biography "Stalin's Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva" by Rosemary Sullivan.

Recently, Judy Woodruff talked with her and Svetlana's American daughter, Chrese Evans.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Rosemary Sullivan, Chrese Evans, thank you very much for joining us.

CHRESE EVANS, Daughter of Svetlana Alliluyeva: Thank you.

ROSEMARY SULLIVAN, Author, "Stalin's Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva": Pleasure to be here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Rosemary Sullivan, there is a lot of new material in here. You were able to get access to politburo notes, CIA files. What do you think you ultimately were able to add to her story?

ROSEMARY SULLIVAN: I don't think anybody has been able to speak to the number of people I spoke to.

I was able to interview 40 different people in Russia, in Georgia, in London, in the United States. I was able to get the FBI files, the CIA files, the (INAUDIBLE) files, some documents when I went to Russia in the state archives.

So, it was precisely the right moment to write the book, because all of that material could be brought together in a way that I don't think has been known before. And Svetlana's story is so different from her father's story. You think you know Stalin, and then you find his daughter, this woman of principle, of intelligence, of humanitarian impulses.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Different from the prisoner of this terrible set of circumstances that was taking place when she was growing up.

ROSEMARY SULLIVAN: You lose your mother at 6.5. At 11, your uncle and aunt, your favorite uncle and aunt, are sent off to the gulag and executed. At 16, you fall in love, as only a 16-year-old can, a man, and your father sends him to the gulag.

These stories continued, one disaster after another, and yet she survived. She — she found the inner resources to survive. That was very impressive.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Chrese, you were the child of your mother's marriage to a man in the United States. This is after she had grown up in what was then the Soviet Union, defected to the U.S.

Why do you think she was able to make something of her life after the just sort of unspeakable things she saw and knew as a child?

CHRESE EVANS: The ability to just keep going, keep going, striving, stamina, and falling apart occasionally and picking herself back up and dusting herself up and moving forward, adaptability, adapting to change.

And she was an incredible nomad. Rather than run away from things, she was able to run to things, to try to start over fresh.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Rosemary Sullivan, how do you explain the nomad part of her life?

ROSEMARY SULLIVAN: She got to the point of having no investment in things.

She believed in the Buddhist principle of being tied down by things, so let's abandon them. And each time, she thought she could find, actually, I think almost a spirituality, a still peaceful place. And she kept leaving them and kept looking for it.

In the morally ambiguous universe she was born into, you know, Stalin's world, she did have her Mary Poppins nanny. She had the most wonderful nanny, whom she loved. When her nanny died, she said, "The person who loved me unconditionally is now gone from my life."

And that nanny's love, intensity created a kind of moral center, I think, for your mom that changed her and made it possible to be the person she was.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Chrese Evans, how much was your mother's past a part of your relationship with her? And what kind of relationship did you have with her?

CHRESE EVANS: It was — it wasn't a part of my past at all, until I was a young — a young teenager, because she kept me very, very sheltered from it.

She always called me American as apple pie. She wanted me — she always wanted to protect me from the hardships that she had had to go through. We had a very special relationship, once I had become probably a young teenager. Sometimes, I was doing the parenting. Sometimes, she was.

We were a little bit more of an equal partnership, sort of a super duo.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That really comes through in the book.

You had to have been struck by that, Rosemary.

ROSEMARY SULLIVAN: Absolutely. Yes, absolutely.

I remember sitting in — when I visited Chrese in Portland, sitting in my hotel room in the descending dark, and you saying to me: "There were moments when my mother could fall into the night terrors of a child. And you wouldn't know what precipitated it. And those who stayed with her, those who loved her saw the volcano and accepted the volcano."

And I thought, yes, that is the dynamic between mother and child. Sometimes, you took care of her. And she was constantly protecting you, right up to the end.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Rosemary, what else would you have liked to know about her and how what happened to her shaped her, but then how she survived?

ROSEMARY SULLIVAN: I would have actually liked people to have been more generous.

The idea that she was Stalin's daughter preceded her. And there was always this projection. So it was never possible for her to be really freely herself. She would carry that projection. And, if she was angry, they would say, ah, just like her father, or if she was anxious, superstitious about something, for instance, thinking that perhaps the KGB was still interested in her, ah, paranoid just like her father.

North Americans, they don't understand what the defection of Stalin's daughter from the Soviet Union meant. It would be like President Obama's daughter going to China and saying, I'm fed up with this — you know, that United States.

So she carried a weight for the Soviet government in her defection that wasn't to be forgiven.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, finally, Chrese, what do you — what part of your mother do you think is most in you?

CHRESE EVANS: Ooh. She had incredible faith.

And I didn't really develop that sense of faith until actually after she passed away and that sense of her being with me. I have a sense of accomplishment that I didn't have before that I know that she left with me.

She was always proud of me, when I hadn't even really accomplished anything, the unconditional love, which I haven't felt from anybody else, ever, because she was my mother, and that warmth of a friendship, which I probably will look for, for the rest of my life in other people. But I know that it's possible.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, so much comes through. It is a remarkable book, "Stalin's Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva."

Rosemary Sullivan, Chrese Evans, we thank you.


CHRESE EVANS: Thank you.