She spoke slowly, as if restraining herself. ''I am home,'' Svetlana Alliluyeva said. Mrs. Alliluyeva (she uses her mother's maiden name) surfaced at a Moscow press conference last week, 13 days after she ended a 17-year defection to the West.
Her return may signal that Soviet authorities are gradually coming to terms with the legacy of her father, the late Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. He will be difficult to overlook in the coming anniversary celebrations of the Soviet victory in World War II.
In Friday's press conference, Mrs. Alliluyeva described a West that readers of the official Soviet news media would instantly recognize: one ridden with crime, poverty, unemployment, and human misery - and lacking in personal freedom.
Speaking of her time in the United States and Britain, which she termed ''the so-called free world,'' she said, ''I was not free in it for a single day.''
This statement differs sharply from an interview she gave to the New York Times in 1973.
''I came from a country of complete totalitarianism into a perfectly free life,'' she said then. ''After six years, I am perfectly convinced that I am free. There is no government pressure on me, and nobody tells me what to do.''
By contrast, she spoke last week in warm and positive tones about her return to the Soviet Union. She said her return was a personal, not a political decision.
Alliluyeva had two books published in the West. They included revelations about Stalin's excesses. She now alleges these works were ''joint efforts'' that were, in some measure, dictated by others - especially officials of the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency.
Alliluyeva returned here with her 13-year-old daughter, Olga, who was born in the US and does not speak Russian. Olga's father, American architect William Peters, has questioned whether Olga came to the Soviet Union against her will. But Alliluyeva said that she, and she alone, has custody over and responsibility for Olga.
Alliluyeva said she now wants to take up translating between English and Russian, and to live a ''quiet, peaceful life.''