On the brink of World War I, three women fight internal battles on the homefront.
Novelist Kelly (The Lilac Girls, 2016), who offered the perspectives of three women during World War II in her bestselling debut novel, turns back the clock to examine the lives of another female trio as the world enters the Great War. Connecting the two novels is Eliza Ferriday, the New York socialite with a heart for social justice, who is the mother of real-life Lilac heroine Caroline Ferriday. The book is a prequel, though it is a silk thread that binds the two stories. Eliza is enjoying the high life with her Manhattan and Southampton social set, making regular visits to Paris and St. Petersburg to sightsee with close friend and confidante Sofya Streshnayva as the world buzzes with talk of impending war. Eliza takes the threat more seriously than beautiful Sofya, a cousin of the Romanovs who, like most of her ilk, is living in a bubble of denial about the danger that lies ahead. When Sofya’s stepmother hires Varinka Kozlov, the daughter of a local fortuneteller, she unwittingly brings trouble into their home. Although young Varinka is a kind soul, her family is closely connected to a pair of local thugs leading Bolshevik uprisings against the bourgeoisie White Russians. Soon, Sofya’s family is caught in the crosshairs of a revolution, Eliza is powerless to help from New York, and Varinka must make a choice about where her loyalties lie. Though the writing is rich and vivid with detail about the period, the storytelling is quite a bit slower than in Kelly’s captivating debut, and both the plot and relationship development feel secondary to the historical scene-setting.
A nuanced tale that speaks to the strength of women.