Lost Roses by Martha Hall Kelly

When I posted a photo on Instagram of Martha Hall Kelly’s book Lilac Girls, I was so excited to see so many people posting their excitement about Kelly’s newest book, Lost Roses, a prequel to Lilac Girls that brings focus to Caroline Ferriday’s mother, Eliza.


Here is the Lost Roses cast of main characters:

Eliza Ferriday– A New York socialite born to the family of famous Woolsey women, known for their abolitionist efforts during the Civil War. Now Eliza finds her own cause in helping the displaced women during the Russian Revolution. These are women who remind her of her close friend, Sofya, whom she initially met in Paris. She has a husband, Henry, and young daughter, Caroline.

Sofya Streshnayva– cousin to the famous Romanov family, Sofya lives in relative ease among the Russian discord until her family is captured by the Bolsheviks, set on stealing from the rich and distributing goods to the poor, no matter how violent the means.

Varinka Pushinksky- a young peasant woman dragged into the schemes of the violent Bolsheviks by her live-in companion, Taras, originally hired by her father before he died. She struggles to see a future for herself, as there are so limited options for women (especially poor women), and only violent options in joining with the opposition.

(Note: Eliza is a true figure from history, fictionalized in the book, whereas Sofya and Varinka are fictional characters amalgamated from multiple historical figures researched by the author). 

World War I  follows the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and the fight between the Allied Powers vs. Axis Powers begins. Meanwhile, Russia is experiencing a nasty civil war– a chaotic mess of violent anarchy. The Tsarist government is overthrown (Tsar Nicholas II) and the first domino falls to give way to what eventually becomes the Soviet Union. This might be one of the most complex wars in Global History, and Kelly manages to make it digestible and comprehensible. After all, one has to understand at least some of the political underpinnings of war, to understand its effect on the people (i.e. the characters).

We start with learning more about Eliza and Sofya’s close friendship, uncovering how Eliza would come to be so close to Russia and the Russian people. After Eliza comes to visit St. Petersburg for social visit in the early 1910’s, Sofya’s family starts to moves from place to place, trying to find safe passage to Paris.

Varinka gives us an alternative perspective, of the poorer class of Russian citizens. Her father has passed away, her mother is ill, taxes are high, and prospects are low. Men are quick to treat women like objects, in a time when even objects are shown no respect. Varinka is subjected to this objectification regularly.

Varinka’s mother attempts to cure favor with Sofya’s stepmother, The Countess, by giving Varinka a job. Failing as maid in the kitchen/dining service, Sofya sees that she interacts well with Max, Sofya’s young son. Little did they know that Varinka’s entry into the home would set off an unpredictable chain of events to affect all three women.

It is unclear throughout the book if Varinka serves as protagonist or antagonist- a fascinating, almost psychological review of the role of ambivalence in this setting. On one hand you are secretly rooting for her escape out of her circumstances, and on the other, you question the choices she makes. She might’ve been my favorite character (although not “most likeable,” but that has never been a factory for earning my favor in novels).

I feel like sometimes I get so swept away with the richness of learning about historical events in pieces like this one, that I sometimes forget to remark about how the actual novel is written. In this case, I thought the plot was well executed, and I really couldn’t shake the emotions of the characters.

One thing is certain- the divide between the rich and poor seems to easily give way to tensions, whether it’s Poland, Russia, Germany, the United States, or any other country. Perhaps the main message in Kelly’s work is how women (especially women of privilege) have historically done their best to mitigate these differences. The proof is in the relationships they build, the legacy they leave for us.

Check out more about the book’s release here!

Source: I was gifted a copy of this book from the publisher, as a participant in the Suzy Approved Book Tour series for Lost Roses. Extra thanks to Suzy for coordinating and helping get this book in the hands of book bloggers like myself!

Further Reading:

  • As always, we are so lucky that Ms. Kelly’s website gives us a glimpse into her historical research behind the book.
  • Check out Book Tour Dates for Martha Hall Kelly! See you in Chicago, Ms. Kelly!
  • Want to win a copy yourself? Check out the Goodreads Giveaway here!



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