The Baroness

August 2nd, 2011 // No Comments

The Baroness Gisela Zebroski

The Baroness

In her first book, a true-life-drama related to the glamour of Old Russia until World War I and the subsequent Bolshevik Revolution, the novel author Gisela Zebroski writes about how good and evil strike a balance as it was discovered in her own family history.

At the New Year’s ball of 1914, Baroness Elisa von Hohemheim watches with her guests as a fortuneteller reads the future from a glass of water and molten lead. For this married mother of five the twisted lead speaks of flames, a vision of fire and destruction. But nobody, not even the fortuneteller, can imagine what will take place within the next three years: the Russian Empire will collapse, the Tsar will be executed and Lenin will declare death to the aristocracy.

Elisa feels the first lick of flame as she falls in love with a young officer, Count Baranowsky. The Count leaves to fight in the Great War, and in his absence revolutionaries take over the country. Elisa and her family live in a state of fear as they cope with the expropriation of their land and her husband’s nervous breakdown.

Count Baranowsky returns from the War and visits Elisa, but just as their passionate love is deepening, revolution puts an end to the tryst. Her estate’s once-faithful gardener, now a communist official, comes at night to arrest their factotum. When Elisa responds to the commotion, her husband, Baron Carl, intercepts her on her way from her lover’s bedroom. Baranowsky shoots the traitorous gardener but is obliged to leave.

Elisa and her family flee to her sister’s apartment in Riga. There they are soon joined by Max, Elisa’s son, who has been masquerading as a revolutionary so that he may continue his studies in St. Petersburg. Max persuades his brother Gustav, a talented pianist, to join him in the Baltic German Home Front. Gustav dies under sniper fire, breaking his mother’s heart, but Max carries on, fighting for his family.

When the Bolsheviks come to the apartment looking for Elisa’s counter-revolutionary son, they choose to arrest his mother in his place. While Elisa dresses to join the armed men, her husband begs forgiveness for his anger and jealousy about Baranowsky.

In jail, Elisa meets the women of Villa Iron Bars, a group of ladies who have banded together to preserve their culture and intellectualism. Elisa organizes a choir, and in exchange for letters and food from home, the women entertain the guards. For months Villa Iron Bars persists in relative peace—until the ladies’ names are called.

Marching toward her execution at a frozen lake, Elisa flirts with her escort and manages to escape, seeking refuge with a Latvian couple. Soon, though, the couple’s Bolshevik sons recognize her aristocratic breeding. Threats of murder and rape follow her down the long road back to Riga.

There, the final hope for Elisa and her family lies in wait among a clandestine group resistance fighters. Enlisting the aid of German forces, Max and his commander plan a surprise attack on Riga: the tide of the Russian Revolution cannot be held any longer, but can they spare the lives of their loved ones?

This action-packed novel is peppered with Elisa’s growing assurance of her course through the turbulence, buoyed by her passion. Max faces danger with the help of their lusty maid, a sexy mistress of a Bolshevik commissar and the young Latvian widow he rescues from her execution. The bloody battles amid Bolshevik brutality drive the story to its incredible resolution. It provides insight into the strength of character needed for survival when enmeshed in an era ongoing deadly political struggles – contemporary with Pasternak’s novel ‘Dr. Zhivago.’

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