1914: Tensions are rising; war is in the air. It is during this uncertain time in history that Lost Roses, written by Martha Hall Kelly, begins. Despite the simmering unrest swirling through Europe, Eliza Ferriday, a New York socialite, travels to St. Petersburg, Russia to visit with her friends, Sofya and Luna Streshnayva, cousins of Tsar Nicholas II. All seems to be going well until, more than 1,500 miles away, something horrible happens, sending shock waves throughout Europe.
On 28 June 1914, in Sarajevo, Bosnia, Archduke Franz Ferdinand—heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire—and his wife Sophie are assassinated by a Serbian nationalist desperate to end Austro-Hungarian rule of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Austria-Hungary is incensed and wants to strike back. However, because Russia is an ally of Serbia, Austria-Hungary appeals to Kaiser Wilhelm II, who on 5 July 1914, pledges Germany’s support. After securing this agreement, Austria-Hungary issues an ultimatum to Serbia. In response, Serbia mobilizes its army and asks Russia for assistance. Then, on 28 July 1914, exactly one month after the Archduke’s murder, Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia, and the tenuous peace between Europe’s countries collapses. Within a week, Belgium, France, Great Britain, Russia, and Serbia are pitted against Austria-Hungary and Germany. World War I has begun.
With this declaration of war, chaos erupts in St. Petersburg. As a result, Eliza is forced to return to America, while Sofya and her family flee to their country estate. Once the Streshnayva family reaches their estate, they hire several servants, including a teenager named Varinka.
On 8 March 1917, demonstrators, desperate for food, take to the streets of St. Petersburg. Striking industrial workers join them. For three days, they protest. Then, on 11 March 1917, the Tsar’s troops are sent to quell the uprising. Although the regiments kill several protesters, the resistance continues, and the troops begin to waver.
Consequently, on 15 March 1917, Tsar Nicholas is forced to abdicate his throne, and he and his family are placed under house arrest. Then, on 6-7 November 1917, revolutionaries, led by Vladimir Lenin, launch a coup d’état, overthrowing Russia’s provisional government. The Bolsheviks are now in control and begin attacking the wealthy and those who had held power.
Meanwhile, back in America, Eliza has begun assisting Russian émigrés who have escaped the ravages of revolution. However, despite the depressing circumstances around her, Eliza remains positive because she knows that Sofya and Luna are safe. But when Sofya’s letters suddenly cease, Eliza fears the worst.
Spanning from St. Petersburg to Paris to New York, Lost Roses follows the lives of Eliza, Sofya, Luna, and Varinka as they deal with the horrors and aftermath of war. Although very different people from very different backgrounds, their lives become entwined. The love between Eliza and Sofya and Sofya and Luna tugs at the heart, while the tragedy these women must endure and the contempt Varinka has for Sofya breaks the heart. A well-researched and well-written novel, Lost Roses is a must-read for both history lovers and lovers of a great story alike.