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Red Princess
Red Princess
Red Princess
Red Princess

“From a privileged childhood in Tsarist St Petersburg to dedicated member of the British Communist party, the life of Princess Sofka Dolgorouky reads like a seismograph of the great upheavals of the twentieth century. In this deeply personal biography, Sofka Zinovieff explores the turbulent, often scandalous life of her grandmother.”

Red Princess: A Revolutionary Life was published by Granta in hardback in 2007 and paperback in 2008.

It has been gone into nine foreign editions, including in the USA, Germany, Spain and Brazil.



An old Russian diary provides the initial inspiration. Written when Sofka was a beautiful young woman trapped in Nazi-occupied Paris, it turns out to be a series of passionate letters to the great love of her life. It is only after Sofka’s death that her granddaughter reads these pages and decides to dig deeper by following in her grandmother’s footsteps. Zinovieff travels to Sofka’s birthplace, St Petersburg, and to the Crimea, where she fled after the 1917 Revolution. She uncovers hidden MI5 files and returns to the Nazi camp at Vittel, where Sofka was interned and worked with the French Resistance, where she uncovers various secrets.


Even more outrageous in its day than her conversion from princess to communist was Sofka’s private life. She not only believed in sexual freedom, but often placed love, literature and adventure before her children. Sofka’s story is much more than that of a princess in exile. She was someone whose existence was dislocated by revolution yet who believed in revolution as a way of making the world a better place and who produced her own revolutions throughout her life. This affectionate portrait of the ‘red princess’ by her granddaughter and namesake uses letter, diaries and interviews to recreate a vanished world and also explore the author’s own Russian roots.



“Inspired by the gift of her grandmother’s Russian diary – and her scandalous reputation – Sofka Zinovieff decided to trace her own roots… The resulting book, Red Princess, delights on several levels: as a detective story, biography, family saga, with glimpses of high society in Russia and Britain, and vivid descriptions of the individual tragedies and desperate struggles for survival of those swept up in the storms of twentieth-century history. The photographs, too, are splendid. With admirable determination, Zinovieff pursued her grandmother’s trail in Russia, the Crimea, Paris and London… Her extensive investigations and thorough weighing of the evidence have produced a convincing portrait… (a) fascinating account”


The Times
“She was clever, cultured, hedonistic and brave. She moved between worlds and moved all those she met. Her granddaughter’s account is funny, honest, searing and tragic – a fascinating insight into a world where fate, war and human cruelty changed lives with a sudden reckless indifference that seems centuries ago.”


The Guardian
“(Red Princess) is a union of comedy and tragedy infused with the heady romance of a vanished Russia… Zinovieff paints a vivid portrait… In short, a life of eccentricity and excess; of loss and exile; of courage, and of cruelty that reverberated down the generations. Red Princess is a small memorial to all the lives dislodged by the shifting sands of modern history… A marvellous story.”


The Daily Mail
“This beautifully written, fastpaced book by her granddaughter, Sofka Zinovieff, is part biography of an extraordinary woman, part loving memoir of a relative.”


The Observer
“Zinovieff writes vibrantly about this hard-drinking, promiscuous, beautiful and scandalous bohemian… there seems to be something poignant – and very often funny – on every other page of the book.”


The Telegraph
“A piercing portrait of an extraordinary woman who was both a Russian princess and a communist…A story of feminine inheritance… Zinovieff approaches her subject intimately”


The Spectator
“Perhaps the only drawback to this highly enjoyable biography is the shadow of utter banality that it throws over one’s own life by comparison… In this insanely cautious age, this era of po-faced monogamy and You and Yours on Radio 4, we need to be reminded of people like Sofka Dolgorouky.”


The Economist
“Like a Jew becoming a Nazi, was how her relatives saw it. How could a brainy, sensitive woman, exiled from her homeland by a monstrous totalitarian regime that hounded her class and murdered her friends and relatives, become an unflinching supporter of its creed? That is the puzzling life of the beautiful Sofka Dolgorouky… The story is told by her granddaughter, Sofka Zinovieff, who maintains an appropriate tone of slightly bemused sympathy with her captivating but repellent subject… Yet anyone reading about her sizzling charm, guts and literary gifts can’t help thinking it would have been fun to know her.”


The Scotsman
“Her story is a remarkable and almost unbelievable one. Told by a sympathetic granddaughter, it becomes an intimate one, too.”


Mail on Sunday
“With feeling and wit, Zinovieff records the experiences that shaped her grandmother’s beliefs. Red Princess presents a beguiling mixture of biography and travelogue.”


The Irish Times
“Ensnared by an inheritance of immense privilege and all sorts of attendant restrictions, the fates gave Sofka an opportunity to create a life of her own. She embraced vigorously the opportunity and her granddaughter, with a critical pride, tells the story well.”


The Herald
“It’s impossible not to like Red Princess because Zinovieff writes with so much passion… Raw and heartbreaking.”


Literary Review
“Her well-written book is partly biography, partly family background, and partly a spirited travelogue in search of those who had known or known of her grandmother, and of the various places where the family had lived… never a dull page.”


The Resident
“From being in a princess in St Petersburg on first name terms with the Romanovs, to ending her days a committed Communist in a damp cottage in the West Country, Sofka Dolgorouky lived quite some life… Fascinating though the palaces and pearls are, what is truly engrossing is the resilience and sense of self of this willful princess who thought nothing of upsetting the Establishment until her dying day. This will have you gripped as if you were in the pages of a novel.”


The Tablet
“Few twentieth-century women can have had more interesting lives than the Communist Princess Sofka Dolgorouky… Sofka’s life has found a perfect chronicler. Her granddaughter Sofka Zinovieff… She presents her material with such smooth skill that this intelligent book is a very easy read”


Corriere della Sera
“La forza devastante del Novecento le si rovesci? addosso a ondate successive: la rivoluzione russa e due guerre mondiali, l’ esilio, il lager nazista, la militanza scrupolosamente spiata dai servizi segreti britannici. Lei sopravvisse a tutto, divorando il suo tempo, mescolando tragedia e commedia, imponendo senza proclami la modernit? ante litteram di una donna ribelle, indipendente e libera.”


Book Magazine
“This fascinating book explores the life of the author’s grandmother, also called Sofka. Born a princess in Tzarist Russia, this highly passionate woman defied convention throughout her adult life.”

Harper’s Bazaar
“In a thrilling new book, Sofka Zinovieff traces the extraordinary life of her grandmother, a daredevil Russian princess who crisscrossed Europe, falling in love and finding adventure wherever she went.”


“Spirit yourself away to old Russia with this account of the author’s grandmother – a Russian princess who worked for the French Resistance and had more lovers than you could shake a fur-clad stick at.”

Foreign Editions


Greece Austria & Germany Spain USA Poland
Η Κόκκινη Πρικγίπισσα Die Rote Prinzessin La PrincesaRoja Red Princess Tajemnice Carskiego Dworu.
Εκδόσεις Λιβάνη Zsolnay Verlag & Deuticke Alfaguara Pegasus Books
Estonia Germany – paperback Finland Brazil Serbia
Punane Printsess Die Rote Prinzessin La PrincesaRoja Red Princess Crvena Princeza
Eesit Päehvalet Insel Verlag Tammi Editora Record Limitada Odiseja

The book has also been published in:


by Albatros