The Mystery of Olga Chekova
Though this work of nonfiction is allegedly the story of Olga Chekhova, niece of the legendary playwright Anton Chekhov, a more accurate title might be A Truncated History of the Chekhov Family and Moscow Art Theatre, Pre-Revolution to Post-World War II. Beevor seems forced to mine the lives of other family members due to the dearth of reliable information about Olga herself. As the author often mentions, Olga was notoriously disingenuous in her own portrayal of the facts about herself, and facts from other sources are few. Olga left revolutionary Russia in 1920 for Germany, where she soon became a celebrated actress favored by high-ranking Nazi officials, including Goebbels and even Hitler himself. The Bolsheviks recruited Olga for espionage, but Beevor never manages to untangle the murky political ties to reveal any actual spying involving her; he has better luck in this area with her enigmatic brother, Lev. The portrait drawn of the Moscow Art Theatre, Stanislavsky, Anton Chekhov’s widow (also named Olga), and the other supposedly peripheral individuals who often steal center stage is absorbing. An interesting read—just don’t expect Beevor to solve the mystery of the inscrutable actress, or even spend the majority of the book on her.