From Publishers Weekly
Hitler admired her for her "cosmopolitan sophistication," but Olga Chekhova, niece of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, was far too pragmatic to lose herself to the charms of a powerful man. Drawing on numerous interviews, articles and books, Beevor (Stalingrad) concludes that the great icon of Nazi cinema never forgot where she came from and worked as a Soviet agent while reaping the rewards of stardom under the Third Reich. Chekhova, a Russian of German descent, could not help but see the benefits of serving the motherland. As an émigrée in Berlin, she was already held suspect by the Soviets and hoped her spying for them would result in favorable treatment of her family in Moscow. Recruited by her brother, Lev, a Soviet composer, Chekhova became a friend and confidante to men like Goebbels, while serving Stalin by gauging Germanys interest in war against Russia. An accomplished documentarian, Beevor has written an absorbing and expansive story, not just of an actress/spy, but of revolution and of the stark changes in Russian society that occurred between the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He places Moscow and Berlin side by side and shows how the divergent trajectories of the regimes could intersect only on the battlefield. Amid the history lesson is the glowing and graceful Olga Knipper-Chekhova, a woman made wiser by a bad marriage and toughened by civil war. As Beevor illustrates, survival was perhaps her most pronounced motivation, and it guided her well, from the day in 1920 when she left the blight of Soviet Russia behind with nothing more than a diamond ring smuggled under her tongue to her death in 1980.
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On Hitler's fiftieth birthday, Goebbels gave him a hundred and twenty movies, and the pair indulged their love of cinema by holding lavish parties for their favorite stars. One of these was Olga Che-khova, a Russian émigrée living in Berlin who was the niece of Anton Chekhov, and whose acting the Führer greatly admired. But her biggest fans were the Soviet secret police, who, seeing her closeness to the Nazi élite, recruited her as a sleeper agent. The closest she ever came to active duty was a 1941 plot to assassinate Hitler, but Stalin decided that keeping him around was a better idea. Beevor soft-pedals the more salacious details of his story and presents a documentary account of the large and complicated Chekhov clan. His painstaking work clears away historical gossip and shows how ingeniously Olga played powerful figures off against each other to survive the revolution, the war, and Stalin's purges.
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