From St Petersburg in 1913 to Estonia in 1919, and beyond, The Russian Tapestry spans violent wars and a revolution that will change the country forever, delving into the lives of two people from very different backgrounds as they gradually become intertwined.
Despite the uncertainty and brutality that is spreading from the trenches on the German Front into the streets and houses in the cities of Moscow and St Petersburg, friendships are forged that will last until death and an unexpected romance sets Russian society talking.
Marie Kulbas, a Law student in St Petersburg and the daughter of a wealthy merchant, farewells those dearest to her as Nikolai, her brother, and her fiancé, Pyotr, leave for the Front.
Colonel Alexei Serov comes from a long line of professional soldiers. Handsome, brave, and fair to his men, he is loyal to his country but not to his wife. As their world is ripped apart, Marie and Alexei's devotion to each other grows stronger until it is only their love that will keep them safe.
A beautiful and captivating story of struggle, friendship and love, based on historical events.
Banafsheh Serov is the author of Under a Starless Sky, the true story of her family's escape from Iran. She lives in Sydney, with her husband and sons, and owns and manages a small chain of bookshops.
The Russian Tapestry
Author: Banafsheh Serov
Question: What inspired you to write a book set in the Russian empire at the start of the twentieth century?
Banafsheh Serov: I first came across the story of Alexei and Marie Serov 25 years ago when I was dating my husband. Visiting his family home, I was fascinated by a painting of Alexei in full dress uniform, sporting a breast full of medals.
As I learnt more about them, I was struck by the parallel lives that led to our families migrating to Australia. Like me, Alexei and Marie possessed migrant hearts. They travelled half the world to start life anew in a foreign land, with little more than their hopes and dreams to sustain them. Over-time I started imagining their life and as their story started to take shape, I was swept away by the scope of Russia's history, the backdrop of war and revolution, and the connection of Marie and Alexei to that historical setting.
Question: How did you go about including your family's personal history in this book?
Banafsheh Serov: At first, I had little to go by. Over the years, Marie and Alexei's diaries and photos have been lost or destroyed. From those which remained, I was able to deduce Alexei's commanding rank and status. Combining this starting point with family anecdotes and the history of the time, I built a story arc which created the framework for The Russian Tapestry.
Question: Can you talk us through the motivate behind using obituaries, war medals, photographs and letters to tell the story of The Russian Tapestry?
Banafsheh Serov: They were the starting point to my research. Marie and Alexei had died long before I joined the family and these family heirlooms was all I had to start building a narrative around their lives.
Question: What was the best thing about creating the character of Marie Kulbas?
Banafsheh Serov: Marie was a remarkable woman. At the time when women were fighting to vote, she was studying Law and wanted to join the District Court in Tallinn (capital of Estonia). Still very young at the start of the war, her life was one of glittering balls and evenings at the theatre, and yet she showed a lot of resilience and strength of character to cope with everything that followed through years of war.
Question: What do you enjoy most about writing historical fiction?
Banafsheh Serov: What I love best about writing historical fiction, is giving my readers a sense of time and place. I wished I had studied history at school instead of maths and sciences. I learnt everything about the Russian experience of WWI through my research when writing The Russian Tapestry. It's very satisfying to bring alive the past and give it meaning through my characters' experiences.
Question: What research went into writing The Russian Tapestry?
Banafsheh Serov: When it came to researching the historical events, there's a lot of material on the Russian Revolution and the lives of the Romanov's (Last Tsar of Russia) but surprisingly very little on the Eastern Front and the effects of the war on the lives of ordinary Russians. By chance, I came across a set of WWI encyclopaedias packed with essays, diary entries and newspaper articles. The encyclopaedias became the backbone of my research which I then backed up with history books and information found on the internet.
Question: Can you tell us what inspired the name, The Russian Tapestry?
Banafsheh Serov: It took me ages to come up with a title both my publishers and I were happy with. For a long while it was called -Across Blood Red Skies' and I even toyed with -Marie and Alexei'. In the end The Russian Tapestry is born from weaving of the Serov's family history with events of the day, and a good splashing of my imagination. It's a tapestry of truth and fiction.
Interview by Brooke Hunter