Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Trim: 6 x 9
978-1-4422-4773-4 • Hardback • January 2016 • $53.00 • (£41.00)
978-1-4422-4774-1 • eBook • January 2016 • $47.50 • (£37.00)
Pamela A. Jordan is assistant professor of politics and global affairs at Southern New Hampshire University. Her publications include Defending Rights in Russia: Lawyers, the State, and Legal Reform in the Post-Soviet Era.
1: Dezhka’s Journey
2: Years of Fame and Fortune
3: Revolution and War
4: Early Years in Exile
6: Double Life
7: The Kidnapping of General Miller
8: Skoblin’s Exit
9: Caged Nightingale
10: The Investigation
11: “La Plevitzkaïa” on Trial
12: The Verdict
14: Death of a Nightingale
In this dense, fascinating biography, political scientist Jordan traces the notorious career of a popular Russian folk singer turned Soviet spy. Born near Kursk sometime around 1879 (the exact date is disputed; Plevitskaya herself gave conflicting birth years up to 1886), Plevitskaya grew up in a large peasant family. She entered a convent intending to become a nun but abandoned it to work as a circus performer before signing on as a singer with the Lipkina Choir. Jordan shines when she describes the whirl of early 20th-century Russian culture and politics. Plevitskaya tried to keep them separate, claiming she had no interest in taking sides in the Russian Revolution. That proved impossible. In the 1920s, she and her third husband, Nikolai Skoblin, a White Army officer, were forced to flee to France. Lured by patriotic rhetoric and generous payments, the couple later agreed to spy on the Russian émigré community for the Soviets. Unfortunately for both of them, they were implicated in the 1937 kidnapping of Gen. Evgeny Miller, a prominent anti-Soviet exile. There’s an exciting story here . . . Illus.
— Publishers Weekly
This beautifully written book is the first English-language biography of Nadezhda Plevitskaya, a popular Russian female singer. . . . But she was more than a prominent artistic figure. Recruited by Soviet intelligence in the interwar period in Paris, Plevitskaya became an agent of Stalin’s secret police. This study traces her itinerary from obscurity to fame, to her eventual downfall, trial and death in prison. . . .
Pamela Jordan provides a useful revision of previous one-sided portrayals of Plevitskaya as ‘a Soviet Mata Hari’ or as a romanticized spy from crime fiction. With the opening of Soviet secret police archives, Jordan is able to use declassified materials to correct considerable misinformation and biased assessment of Plevitskaya in autobiographical sources by émigré writers and former Soviet spies. Her compelling exploration of Plevitskaya’s complex life is admirably researched. The abundance of data which Jordan has managed to gather and compile is impressive. . . .
Complementing the biographical material, Jordan’s book provides firsthand knowledge of Plevitskaya’s thought through excerpts from her revealing diaries that introduce us to the private side of this enigmatic person. The biographical material is treated on a par with contemporary cultural, social and political events that shaped Plevitskaya’s life story. The meticulous source and historical scholarship in this study is accompanied by an insightful interpretation of Russia’s turbulent past; there is a wealth of provocative thought and historical observations in this volume that students of Russian history cannot afford to ignore. Of particular interest is the author’s description of the activities of ROVS, the Russian General Military Union, and other émigré military organizations and circles. Jordan’s discussions here are valuable not only for the detail they give us about Russian émigré community in the 1920s-30s but also for what they tell us about Plevitskaya’s, and her husband’s, involvement in these groups. Her account of the couple’s life as spies sheds light on the operations of Soviet foreign intelligence and the motives behind some émigrés’ decision to serve the Soviets.
Jordan’s approach is balanced and impartial, and it is to her credit that she reconstructs Plevitskaya’s life with objectivity. What is more, Jordan neither dwells on nor sensationalizes the more unsavory aspects of her subject’s life. Aptly titled, the book is logically and conveniently organized. It is complete with an extensive bibliography and helpful notes and includes many photographs, with Plevitskaya’s portrait in a Russian national costume gracing its cover. Jordan’s focus is on one person’s life, but she teaches both the specialist and the general reader a great deal about Russian cultural past and history.
— The Russian Review
Stalin’s Singing Spy is a scholarly, very detailed, thoroughly documented, yet remarkably readable account of Plevitskaya’s often exciting life that intersected Stalin’s intelligence services in the mid-1930s. Dr. Jordan has illuminated one of the dark corners of intelligence history.
— Studies In Intelligence
A carefully researched and nuanced biography of the extraordinary life of a member of Russia Abroad who captured popular imagination with her embodiment of 'Russianness'for émigré audiences. But more than an individual story, Jordan’s painstaking analysis provides a valuable glimpse into the inner workings of convoluted NKVD attempts to infiltrate Russian émigré communities in the run-up to war. This view of the energy and time spent in such endeavours offers valuable insight for those trying to better understand the paranoia of the Stalinist-era police organs: this a society that indeed saw (and sought to create) spies at every turn. Based upon a vast source base of archival and published documents in Russian, French, and English from the United States, France, and Russia, this book will be read with interest by scholars of Russian émigré culture and transnational exchange, but also by a more general audience drawn to the fascinating narrative of one woman’s extraordinary life caught between two worlds.
— Canadian Slavonic Papers
A thorough and informative biography—the first in English—of the celebrated early-twentieth-century Russian popular singer Nadezhda Plevitskaya. It is fascinating to follow Jordan's reconstruction of Plevitskaya's improbable life trajectory from peasant village, to grand concert halls, to command performances for the tsar, and ultimately to the travails of emigration. Jordan provides a detailed and judicious analysis of Plevitskaya's involvement in the skulduggery and lopsided struggle between Russian émigrés in Paris and the ruthless Soviet secret police, the tangled politics of the time, and the dénouement of Plevitskaya's life—her notorious trial and conviction on the eve of the Second World War.
— Vladimir Alexandrov, Yale University
From Tsar Nicholas II’s beloved ‘Kursk Nightingale’ to the spy who helped lure an anti-Bolshevik war hero into the hands of the Soviet secret police, Nadezhda Plevitskaya rose from humble peasant origins to celebrity through exile, espionage, and ignominy. The twists and turns of her life are documented excellently in Pam Jordan’s riveting work, based on extensive research and a masterful ability to contextualize her findings. Was Plevitskaya a Red Mata Hari? Read this book and find out.
— Rochelle Goldberg Ruthchild, Harvard University
Pamela Jordan’s book furnishes hard-won new intelligence about a story both important and intriguing—a grim detective tale that provides further proof the Soviet secret police operated in pre-World War II Europe with an audacity and ruthlessness unmatched by any other country, including Germany. The valuable material that Professor Jordan has mined in three national archives with very restricted access has allowed her to put together the most complete account we have of the Skoblin-Plevitskaya affair.
— Gennady Barabtarlo, University of Missouri