It is an unpretentious little house, pale and shingled, set on a cul de sac. The furniture inside is spare, functional, all of the sofas and chairs casually covered with unfitted slipcovers. A few straw baskets are hung on the walls, and lots of pictures tacked up - the kind of direct boldly drawn pictures that indicate a child lives here too.
In every room there are books - many of them volumes of Amercan history. Nothing within view, no an icon, a calendar, a photograph, betrays the fact that the owner of this house once lived in the Soviet Union, grew up behind the walls of the Kremlin, and sat at the knee of Joseph Stalin - who was her father.
And that is just the way the owner wants it. Last November, in a ceremony she says some have called "just a formality, but for me it has changed the whole quality of my life," the woman who came to this country 12 years ago as Svetlana Alliluyeva became an American citizen and formally changed her name to Lana Peters.
It was the last official step in cutting herself off from a past she describes as "slavery," a childhood she would rather forget, but which she admits continues to haunt her and probably always will.
"I don't want to be Svetlana anymore," she says emphatically. "I like to be Lana Peters. It is easy to spell and now it is legal, through naturalization. I don't like my past - it was the life of a slave."
"Before, I was a guest," she says of the 12 years she has spent in America. "I was a resident and I paid taxes. But I couldn't take sides in politics, I couldn't criticize. Now I want t vote. I know where I stand."
She has registered as a Republican, she explains, because "I could never vote for a liberal. In my personal life I have made many radical changes, but where politics are concerned, I am a very conservative person."
Fifty-three now, auburn-haired and stocky, the eyes strikingly blue against the ruddy complexion, she is still pretty when she smiles, in spite of a weariness she ascribes to "raising a child at my age." Her daughter Olga is 8 now, and will enter third grade in public school this fall. Olga was born of the brief dissolved 1970 marriage to American architect Wesley Peters, who took Svetlana to live with him in an architectural cooperative in Arizona. Svetlana fled when Olga was 8 months old, calling the life she had found there "too authoritarian, a disaster."
Divorced and at last a citizen, she says it is the frist time since she arrived in America that "nobody is managing my life. Before, it was supervised by people who helped me to come here."
It is also the first time she has felt free to talk in detail about the money she made from her two autobiographical books, published here in 1967 and 1969, "Twenty Letters to a Friend" and "One More Year." Her claim that the largest part of that money is gone has been quoted in the press recently (figures for the original sum range according to the source one reads, from $1 million to $6 million, with Lana Peters talking about a figure of "a little over a million").
While she speaks, her feet tucked under on the couch in her downstairs study, her hands slice throught the air in emphasis; anger and pain cross her face and she looks tired, worn.
The American experience of Svetlana Alliluyeva - she had chosen to take her mother's maiden name a few years after her second Russian divorce and her father's death - began in late December of 1966 with a trip to India. She went there to bring home the ashes of a man she had hoped to make her third husband, an Indian communist she met in Moscow and whom the Soviets had prevented her from marrying.
Shortly before she was scheduled to return to Russia, she took a taxi to the American Embassy in New Delhi and asked asylum. She was taken first to Rome, then to Switzerland, under a temporary visa. "While I was still in Switzerland," she relates, "I had with me the manuscript that was written in Russia in 1963 [which was to become "Twenty Letters to a Friend"]. I knew I could publish it abroad and somehow live on it, but how much I could make I didn't know."
It is here that by her own account she is portrayed as a helpless, naive woman used by those to whom she turned for help. She talks of lawyers taking over the sale and serialization of her book without ever explaining to her any of the specifics.
She says she stressed from the first that she wanted the bulk of whatever money was made from her writing to be placed "in charitable trust. I wanted 75 percent for charity, 25 percent for me so I could live. I wanted first of all to do something for the village in India [Kalakankar, where her Indian friend had lived]" and some of her funds have since gone to build and maintain a hospital.
She says she didn't want the book serialized at all, because "I felt it was a personal book, kind of a family chronicle. But I was told, "If we want to make more money for charity, we have to.""
Lawyers connected to both the sale of her book and its serialization deny that she was never fully informed and stress that she was actually anxious for worldwide serialization. They call her account "pathetic and confused - she's been through a lot of unhappiness."
If the truth is in shadow, what is clear is that today Lana Peters sees herself as someone whose good intentions were thwarted, who is "minunderstood and misinterpreted."
""How much money have we made?" I kept asking them," she says. "Nobody would tell me." Between 1967 and 1969 she says she was unable to learn any specifics about the money except that an amount she describes as "far too little" had been placed in the charitable trust.
In 1970, she married Peters after a three-week courtship. "Now," she remembers thinking, "I will have an American husband, an American businessman who will help me fight these lawyers."
But Peters was bankrupt. "His debts became my debts. I paid them - a substantial amount. I cannot blame him; I am sure any American husband would expect to use his wife's money for help."
At the same time, she says, she learned of legal fees charged by her original American lawyers, which she felt were exorbitant. When the marriage ended, she suffered a "complete physical breakdown. No doctor could help me. Only Christian Science."
She claims her health was worsened when she realized that "the good humanitarian idea" for that trust had died as well as the marriage.
She moved to southern California, which she once called "the perfect place to raise a child," referring to the climate. But eventually she found California confusing, kept moving there - seven times in three years - looking for the right place and the right schools. A little over a year ago she returned to Princeton. Here, she explains, "I know how to live alone."
"Alone" means without help from Peters. Other than phone calls and postcards from Peters, he hasn't been in touch with his happy, giggly, all-American child since 1974, she says with bitterness. Not that there isn't enough money to live what she calls "a middle-class life." But the dream of a trust fund that would feed good works perpetually - the "good, humanitarian idea - and I could have done it!" - has faded.
Last year she asked her lawyers and the trustees of the original trust fun to resign. The "very minor amount" in trust now goes to support the hospital in India.
And Lana Peters wants very much for the world to know what happened.
"I am not a greedy person who came here to make money," she says. "I came here to live in the free world, as an enemy of communism. I made certain sacrifices...."
The greatest of those sacrifices was leaving behind her son Joseph, then 22, and daughter Katya, then 17, whose pictures hang on her living room wall. She has not seen them since, and she knows she may never see them. There is a grandson now, Ilya, 10, and she has never even seen his picture. Mail between her and her children is forbidden.
"Once, in 1975, I called Jospeh from California. It was Christmas. "Bunny, is that you?" she asked, calling him by his childhood nickname. " "Do you think you sound like yourself after nine years?" he answered me, and then we were cut off." She has not been able to reach them since.
She is convinced that her children understand her need to leave, and that "they were pressured to make certain statements against me; but through people who emigrated to Israel I know they have read both my books. And there is complete understanding."
And now there is Olga, the center of her life, creator of those bold, bright pictures on the wall, the laughing, affectionate imp who loved "Star Wars" and watches "The Brady Bunch," the little girl her mother calls "a totally modern American child. For her birthday this year she only wanted the record "Grease." I don't like it, but I bought it for her. I'm not going to stop her from doing what other children do, as long as there's no harm in it. She's a free individual."
It is Olga to whom she devotes most of her time, she explains.
""At 53 Mrs. Peters is in hiding from the public"," she quotes angrily from a newspaper clipping. "Well, I'm not hiding from the public. I'm bringing up this child. And it takes so much of my strength that I'm tired much of the time. I'm really quite active in many things with Olga, taking her to art classes, riding lessons, talking with parents of her friends. This is the No. 1 interest of my life now and I don't see such tasks as second-rate."
She cleans her house herself, shops at the market like any other homemaker and enjoys the anonymity that she says a town like Princeton offers her. When there are moments to herself she spends many of them reading, no longer the fiction she devoured in her years in Russion, but history and nonfiction because "reading fiction can be an escape from life. Here I feel living is so much more important than escaping."
At night she watches little TV, occasionally turning on the late show for old movies like "The Group," which she enjoyed one recent summer evening. When she was a child, there were always evenings of private screenings for her father and his friends, and she learned to love American films and stars like Bette Davis.
Lana Peters has not yet confronted the problem of how to explain to her carefree daughter who her maternal grandfather was. "She hasn't reached the age when she is able to understand history...Why should I think about it now?" she says
"We don't dwell in the past. I don't speak Russian; my daughter doesn't even know a word of it." But the past refuses to disappear. Every now and then there are letters from "people who suffered in the revolution, asking me to explain why my father dis what he did. They forget I was very young, that he may have loved me when I was a little girl, but when I was 16 and fell in love with a man he didn't approve of, he sent him to a camp for 10 years."
She pauses, and it is apparent that the subject is painful to her. "They don't see me as an individual," she says. "They see me as a political symbol. They won't even open my books to understand."
She says she isn't lonely, that she has "so many good friends, and there are so many people who are so much more unhappy."
But has it been worth it, after all the misunderstanding and disappointment that have followed her here in these 12 years?
"Oh yes! Oh yes!" she exclaims. "I am one of the very few people who can say "My life is fulfilled." I turned my life from one road to another, with my own effort in a completely different direction. The road was bumpy, yes. But I'm glad I live in the free world. I, who was brought up in total slavery - dominated! - I proved to myself and to others that this can be done. It was a unique chance - I had never been out of the country before, you know. Once in your life you can take it or not take it. I took it. I will never be sorry." CAPTION: Picture 1, Lana Peters today with daughter Olga, left; By Mitch Toll; Picture 2, and in 1937 in the arms of her father, Joseph Stalin, below. UPI; Picture 3, Lana Peters and daughter Olga with their cat, Snowflake at there Princeton, N.J., home. Photo by Mitch Toll