Lost Roses, by Martha Hall Kelly (Review)

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Lost Roses
by Martha Hall Kelly

Genre: Historical Fiction

Length: 448 Pages

Release date: April 9, 2019

Publisher: Ballantine Books

Synopsis: 

The runaway bestseller Lilac Girls introduced the real-life heroine Caroline Ferriday. This sweeping new novel, set a generation earlier and also inspired by true events, features Caroline’s mother, Eliza, and follows three equally indomitable women from St. Petersburg to Paris under the shadow of World War I.

It is 1914 and the world has been on the brink of war so many times, many New Yorker’s treat the subject with only passing interest. Eliza Ferriday is thrilled to be traveling to St. Petersburg with Sofya Streshnayva, a cousin of the Romanov’s. The two met years ago one summer in Paris and became close confidantes. Now Eliza embarks on the trip of a lifetime, home with Sofya to see the splendors of Russia. But when Austria declares war on Serbia and Russia’s Imperial dynasty begins to fall, Eliza escapes back to America, while Sofya and her family flee to their country estate. In need of domestic help, they hire the local fortuneteller’s daughter, Varinka, unknowingly bringing intense danger into their household. On the other side of the Atlantic, Eliza is doing her part to help the White Russian families find safety as they escape the revolution. But when Sofya’s letters suddenly stop coming she fears the worst for her best friend.

From the turbulent streets of St. Petersburg to the avenues of Paris and the society of fallen Russian emigre’s who live there, the lives of Eliza, Sofya, and Varinka will intersect in profound ways, taking readers on a breathtaking ride through a momentous time in history.

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My thanks to Ballantine Books and NetGalley for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by the publisher. 

Lost Roses is a prequel to Lilac Girls, and both books feature Caroline Ferriday, although Lost Roses focuses more on Caroline’s mother, Eliza, than on Caroline herself. the two books can definitely be read in either order and I don’t think it would impact how much you would enjoy either one. Lost Roses follows the interconnected stories of three principal point of view characters:

Eliza – an American socialite who is passionate about charity work

Sofya – a wealthy Russian woman and dear friend of Eliza

Varinka – a teenage girl employed as a servant in Sofya’s home in Russia

Lost Roses feels a bit slow in the beginning. Your mileage may vary, but it took me longer than most books to become invested in this one. I read small bits and pieces of the first half while finding myself sidetracked by other books, then flew through the second half. I think part of the issue was the number of point of view characters and the degree of separation of each of their stories, despite each of the POV characters knowing at least one of the others. I think this format made it take a bit longer to get to know each of these women well enough to become invested in their stories. To a lesser extent, I had the same issue with Lilac Girls, which is set up the same way, but both books feel well worth that time investment by the time they are done.

One of the best things about this novel is the way Martha Hall Kelly brings interesting, morally grey characters to life. Varinka was particularly interesting to me; I don’t want to get into spoilers, but the hardships of her life certainly play a part in some horrible decisions she makes and her total lack of empathy for certain people. She is pitted against Sofya by events which are outside of either woman’s control. Sofya, conversely, seems totally blind to the strife in her home country until it begins to impact her personally. Most members of the Russian aristocracy definitely give off a bit of a Marie Antoinette vibe at times, far more concerned with the luxuries of their daily lives than the fact that the common people are starving.

It’s clear that Martha Hall Kelly did a lot of research to get the time period right. Depending on your taste, you may feel this adds a lot of texture to the story or it may feel overly detailed. As a big history enthusiast, a loved the detail and thought it helped the reader to get to know the characters better by giving a very full sense of their environment, particularly the anxieties brought on by the political chaos of the time.

All in all, despite the slow start, I definitely recommend Lost Roses. Fans of Lilac Girls will absolutely want to grab a copy of Martha Hall Kelly’s latest work.

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Thank you for reading! Have you read any of Martha Hall Kelly’s work? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

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Review – Lilac Girls, by Martha Hall Kelly


Lilac Girls
by Martha Hall Kelly

Genre: Historical Fiction

Length: 502 Pages

Release date: April 5, 2016

Synopsis: 

Inspired by the life of a real World War II heroine, this debut novel reveals a story of love, redemption, and secrets that were hidden for decades.
 
New York socialite Caroline Ferriday has her hands full with her post at the French consulate and a new love on the horizon. But Caroline’s world is forever changed when Hitler’s army invades Poland in September 1939—and then sets its sights on France.

An ocean away from Caroline, Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish teenager, senses her carefree youth disappearing as she is drawn deeper into her role as courier for the underground resistance movement. In a tense atmosphere of watchful eyes and suspecting neighbors, one false move can have dire consequences.

For the ambitious young German doctor, Herta Oberheuser, an ad for a government medical position seems her ticket out of a desolate life. Once hired, though, she finds herself trapped in a male-dominated realm of Nazi secrets and power.

The lives of these three women are set on a collision course when the unthinkable happens and Kasia is sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious Nazi concentration camp for women. Their stories cross continents—from New York to Paris, Germany, and Poland—as Caroline and Kasia strive to bring justice to those whom history has forgotten.

rating

five

“But it’s fitting in a way—Father loved the fact that a lilac only blossoms after a harsh winter.”

Lilac Girls follows the stories of three women during World War II who come from very different circumstances. The author expertly strikes a very difficult balance in this novel in the sense that the villains of the story are fleshed out and feel more human than monster, without the tone ever veering into the territory of feeling too sympathetic towards them. This exploration of the inner thoughts and feelings of one of the worst people in the novel, uncomfortable as it was at time, was incredibly interesting to read.

Herta Oberheuser (based on the real woman of the same name) gets drawn into working at a concentration camp with the hopes of advancing her medical career. (No spoilers here, by the way; this can be inferred pretty easily from the blurb and I will not delve into details surrounding specific plot points.) Martha Hall Kelly uses Herta as a window into the thinking of the “ordinary people” of Germany who got swept up into complicity during the Holocaust.

Herta, as well as those who work with her, engage in a variety of psychological defense mechanisms to cope with what they do, but one thing that seemed to come up over and over was the point that, if they did not do what they were asked to do, then the German government would find someone else who would. Consequently, they seemed to be able to view their participation in atrocities as an almost value-neutral decision. I often found myself reminded of the old quote, “No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.” Because Herta was not capable of stopping what was happening, her own sense of personal responsibility for her complicity was practically nonexistent.

I also liked that the history felt realistic, as I’ve read so many WWII novels which seem to view the US through rose-colored glasses. Hall doesn’t shy away from addressing the fact that antisemitism wasn’t exclusive to Germany, nor the fact that a lot of Americans viewed what was going on in Europe as someone else’s problem. Caroline, the New York socialite/charity worker, provided a window for exploring these themes. The novel extends well past the end of the war, and Caroline is horrified at the indifference she sometimes faces when trying to raise funds for camp survivors. This is not to say that it was all bad; I actually think the tone was remarkably hopeful at times considering the subject matter, but Hall isn’t afraid to show the ugly side of all parties.

Kasia, the Polish teenager, was by far the most engaging of the characters to me. She starts the story as a young and naive teenager, who seems to view the danger of the resistance as glamorous in a way, and she is forced to grow up quickly and become a survivor above all things. I won’t say much about her because it’s difficult to go into detail about her without giving away major plot points, but her story involves an exploration of anger, trauma, survivor’s guilt, and the struggle to find peace and acceptance.

The three women’s stories cannot possibly be more different, but they are interwoven expertly throughout this novel. Lilac Girls is a must-read for fans of historical fiction like The Alice Network (Kate Quinn)and The Nightingale (Kristin Hannah). For fans of non-fiction who are interested in reading about the real women behind this novel, there is Ravensbrück: Life and Death in Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women, by Sarah Helm.

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Thank you for reading! Have you read Lilac Girls? Martha Hall Kelly has a prequel due to be released April 9, 2019, Lost Roses

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