“Lost Roses” By Martha Hall Kelly

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By Pat Wellington

This novel is a prequel to Kelly’s runaway best seller “Lilac Girls,” in which Caroline Ferriday was a main character. In this story, however, she’s a mere child. The story’s focus, instead, is on her mother, Eliza, who reaches out to Russian nobility being brutalized during World War I and the Russian Revolution.

Just as “Lilac Girls” presented three strong women. so does this novel as well. In addition to Eliza, who lives the high life in Manhattan and Southampton, there’s her friend and confidante-- Russian beauty Sofya Streshnayva, a cousin of the Romanovs, who tries to ignore the alarming buzzes about war and impending violence in her homeland. Rounding out the threesome is a Russian peasant, Varinka, daughter of a fortune teller.

When the imperial dynasty begins to fall, Sofya and her family flee to their country estate. There, in need of domestic help, Sofya hires Varinka who unknowingly brings danger into the household.

In time Sofya’s family is in the crosshairs of the revolution when leading Bolshevik uprisings against the bourgeoisie White Russians overrun the estate. Meanwhile, good friend Eliza is powerless to help her because she can’t even find her in the vastness of Russia.

“Lost Roses” is a well-researched historical novel that gives a clear account of life in Russia under the Tsar for those affiliated or related to him and how their lives change when all that had kept them safe has been destroyed.

Although the pace is somewhat uneven in places, the last quarter of the book contains the bulk of action and emotion. Some Kelly fans are sure to make invidious comparisons between the prequel and its predecessor. But in both the over-arching theme is the unbreakable bond of women’s friendship, especially during the darkest days of history.