THIS IS NOT the story of Olga Knipper-Chekhova, the versatile actress who married Chekhov and survived him for fifty-five years. It is the life of the actress's niece, another Olga Knipper, who had ten times her aunt's beauty, a tiny fraction of her talent, and an ability to manipulate, lie and survive which left everyone who met her - and will leave anyone who reads about her - flabbergasted. The young Olga acquired the name Chekhova by a brief and disastrous marriage to another relative of Chekhov's, his nephew Mikhail (an actor and the only one of the next generation of Chekhovs to inherit his uncle's genius). This connection, added to her ambition, stunning looks and minimal acting ability, got her onto the Russian stage and screen before the First world War. She left soon after the revolution for Germany (she was by blood 100 per cent German), where, despite her poor knowledge of the language, she rapidly became a film star. She impressed Goebbels (but did not sleep with him), was photographed next to Hitler, and was in Berlin when the Red Xrmy took the city.
That should have been the end of Chekhova's story, with an executioner's bullet or-slow death in the Gulag as an epilogue. But no: she was flown to Moscow, interviewed by agents of Lavrenti Beria and Viktor Abakumov (head of Smersh), then returned