A chronicle of one ÇmigrÇ Polish aristocrat's return to her family's abandoned estate is transformed by an award-winning British writer into an evocative narrative complete with two remarkable heroines and two world wars. That poet Zofia Ilinska had a colorful and mysterious past was apparent early on to Marsden, who as a boy summered in the Cornish village where Ilinska lived. Yet nothing quite prepared him for the drama, pain, and courage that were revealed to him when he accompanied his old friend on a journey to her ancestral homes in and around the city of Vilnius, in Poland's former eastern borderlands. Marsden's English voice, with its combination of curiosity and distance, drives and shapes this fascinating tale of Ilinska and her mother, Helena, and their vanished, rarefied world of Poland's landed aristocracy. Helena, who witnessed both world wars and the start of the Russian Revolution in St. Petersburg, is a woman of courage, charm, and innocence who inspires in the reader a combination of awe and pity. Working from her papers and diaries, Marsden vividly captures the spirit of Helena and the customs, mores, and prejudices of her society and family. By going back a generation, he provides Ilinska's own remarkable story of love and misfortune with added depth and perspective, highlighting the ``patterns of loss'' that plagued mother, daughter, and Poland, whether caught between lovers or armies. During her journey home, Ilinska finds her family's estate in ruins and the family graves looted. Her response is pragmatic. She restores the family chapel, declaring that it is for the locals, both Orthodox and Catholic, to use. With this act she brings a sense of closure to her own past while infusing hope into historic local, national, and religious tensions that surrounded her family's private world. A fascinating and dramatic tale of love and loss on both a personal and national scale.