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If you are interested in Russian and Baltic history in the early part of the last century, this novel is for you. Bay Area author Gisela Zebroski has put together a riveting story of the forty-year-old Baroness Elisa von Hohenheim and her struggles to keep her family alive through the devastation and deprivations of World War I, starvation winters, and the Bolshevik invasions of Latvia after Germany surrendered.

The book starts in 1914, and we see Elisa in her aristocratic life of luxury in pre-war Russia. Her elderly husband, Baron Carl von Hohenheim is a high-level advisor to the Tsar. There is trouble brewing in the land and their estate buildings and home are set afire by one of their workers who is wrapped up in anti-Tsar Bolshevik propaganda.

During the Russian Revolution of 1917, the communists confiscate what is left of Carl’s fortune and the family flees to Riga where Elsa’s sister and physician husband Julius (Carl’s brother) live. The Reds invade Latvia and more trouble descends on the family. Their three older sons go off to war. One son is killed, one disappears and is not heard from again, and the third son becomes a war hero.

Just when you think all is going to be well with the family, the author throws in another twist and Elsa must sacrifice more of her sophisticated breeding to keep going. Elsa is surrounded by conflict from the world events that are reshaping her life to the conflict created by her adulterous love for a younger man, Count Misha Baranowsky. Will they both survive the wars? Read the book to find out.

There is the old cliché of a great read being a page-turner. I found myself putting other tasks aside to read this entire book. That says a lot about the tight plotting the author used in crafting this book. I recommend The Baroness to anyone who enjoys reading about the transformation of a woman, from one who initially depends on servants to tend to every need to one who must find the strength to fend for herself in order to keep her family alive in troubling times.

 

Book Review by Robert A. Garfinkle, April 14, 2010


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