Lost Roses by Martha Hall Kelly
Ballantine Books, 2019. Hardcover, 448 pages.
This prequel to Lilac Girls tells the story of Caroline Ferriday’s mother, Eliza and her amazing charity work in the years during and after World War I. The story opens just before World War I as Eliza prepared to travel to the home of her friend, Sofya Streshnayva. Sofya had been visiting New York with her family, all relatives of the tsar, so they planned to travel together. Eliza is hoping to see the splendors of Russia, but also sees the growing unrest in the county. Just as war is declared, Eliza flees back home and Sofya and her family leave St. Petersburg for their country estate.
The war is a different experience for them both. For Eliza, she champions the cause of the White Russians fleeing the communist uprising. She helps find them homes and employment while also leading assorted fundraisers. Sofya, on the other hand, starts the war having found relative peace in the county. That changes the day she hires Varinka, a local girl, to help care for her son Max. Varinka is connected to the communists and sets off a chain of reactions that alter Sofya’s life forever. Both dedicated letter writers who pen letters to each other daily, Eliza fears the worst when Sofya’s letters quit coming. Will she see her friend again? For Sofya, she is forced to flee, but will she survive? What will happen to her family, including sister Luba who also features prominently in the novel?
I enjoyed this book more than I did Lilac Girls, which was also a wonderfully-written book. I felt more drawn to the story of Eliza, her friendships, and her work. It was amazing what the determination of one woman can do to help others, even after the sorrow she faced after her husband’s death. I was even more drawn to the heartbreaking story of her friend, Sofya, who had to endure the worst the world had to offer and learned more about herself on her flight to freedom than she ever dreamt. Sofya’s plight also added an element of adventure and the classic survival story a la Jack London. Then the depictions of Russia as it fell to the Bolsheviks illustrated the terrors of living during that era, something I would not have wanted to do. Then the desperation of those of former wealth that fled Russia show the unimaginable hardships they faced. The author’s note at the end pointed to Kelly’s sources, which were varied and very much primary source-based. This authenticity probably helped to drive the story home.
This review is based on a digital advanced copy of the novel obtained from NetGalley. It will be released on April 9th, 2019. Also in the afterward, Kelly announce that her next novel will focus on Caroline’s grandmother and her nursing in the Civil War.