Wednesday 29 May 2019

Lost Roses

Finished May 20
Lost Roses by Martha Hall Kelly, read by Kathleen Gati, Tavia Gilbert, Karissa Vacker, and Catherine Taber

This novel is related to the author's earlier Lilac Girls, but happens in the generation earlier, around the first World War. One of the central characters here, Eliza Ferriday, is the mother of one of the main characters in Lilac Girls, Caroline Ferriday.  The story begins in 1914, with Eliza hosting a close friend that she met years before in Paris, Sofya Streshnavya. Sofya is a cousin of the Romanovs, and is married to an army officer. Her father is attached to the Treasury department of the government. Sofya's mother died a few years ago, and her father remarried, to a woman very conscious of status, class, behaviour, and material wealth. Sofya's younger sister Luba has an innovative and scientific mind and is enormously interested in astronomy. As the story begins, Sofya's baby, Max, arrives early, and in good health. Eliza is already a mother to Caroline, and while she loves her husband and daughter, she also loves to travel, and it has been arranged that she will travel back to Russia with Sofya and her family.
The story then jumps to Russia, with Eliza visiting St. Petersburg and visiting the many sites with her friend. The unrest has already begun though, and an incident during an evening to a gala at the Tsar's palace shows that clearly. Eliza makes it home safely, and Sofya's family soon after decides to go to their nearby country estate. There are already some signs of change there as well, and while the family settles in, there are incidents that arise to show what is happening in the world around them.
There is a woman living near the village by the estate that was once a member of court, but married a local man, since died, and now tells fortunes. She has a teenage daughter Varinka, whom she has taught as well as she can, including French and English, and the family hires Varinka as a nanny for young Max when their foreign nanny leaves.
The story really develops from here, showing the terrible extent of the revolution with some rebels bent on destruction and filled with hate for the upper class, while others recognize the individuals that also did good for the people whose lives intersected with theirs. Sofya's family undergoes many terrible things and she must draw on her underlying strength, and the love of her son, as well as her hope for help from her friend Eliza to survive. Varinka is already in a bad place, with the loss of her father placing her and her mother under the control of her father's former apprentice, and subject to his moods and angry actions. She is young and impressionable and doesn't always follow the guidance of her mother.
Eliza, back in the United States, is filled with worry about her friend, which she begins to put toward assisting other Russian refugees, particularly women and children. But she has issues in her personal life as well, with the health of her husband, the growing rift between her and her daughter, and the expectations of the society world she lives in.
This book has sadness and loss, but also hope. Some of my own family fled the area south of St. Petersburg following the Russian Revolution, so it was interesting to see this view of the times.
While drawing from real people and real events, the author clearly discusses in an afterword the sources for the characters that she has built here, showing the detailed research she has put toward this book.
I look forward to her next one, which goes back farther in the same family, centering on the U.S. Civil War.

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