Young Zoya's family is destroyed in the Russian revolution and she has to make a new life for herself, far away from everything that she once held dear. 17-year-old Zoya Ossupov belongs to Russian royalty and has the Tsar of Russia and his family for her cousins. Her life is idyllic, filled with thoughts of practicing ballet or sparring with her elder brother Nicolai or meeting her friend Marie - one of the Grand Duchesses. Her father, brother and her grandmother Evgenia dote on the fiery beauty. But when the Russian revolution begins, she loses her entire family in the blink of an eye. Evgenia and Zoya escape to the royal palace to hide along with the Tsar's family till things return to normal. The Tsar realizes that things are only going to get worse and asks Zoya and Evgenia to escape along with an old servant Feodor. Zoya does not want to leave her friends, but her grandmother convinces her otherwise and the two make the long journey to Paris.
The two women struggle to make their ends meet in the strange city. Zoya joins a ballet troupe without telling her grandmother. Evgenia is outraged and asks her to leave immediately, but Zoya tells her that she has no other talent or skill to earn money. Evgenia asks her to marry Vladimir – a sixty-year-old noble Russian who had escaped from his country when the revolution started and now drives a taxi in Paris. Zoya refuses and tells her that she would only marry a man whom she loves.
American troops arrive in Paris during the First World War and Zoya meets Captain Clayton Andrews at one of the parties and falls in love with him. Though he is equally smitten with her, he feels that she deserves someone younger than him (he is near 40) and tells her to forget him when he returns home. Evgenia dies of old age and Zoya is left with no one in Paris. She comes to know that the entire royal family in Russia was murdered by the revolutionaries and is heartbroken. Clayton returns to Paris and asks Zoya to marry him.
Clayton takes his new wife to New York where society initially ignores her but accepts her with open arms when they realize that she comes from a royal lineage. Clayton and Zoya have two children – Nicholas and Sasha. Ten years pass by. Clayton loses his entire savings in a stock market crash and dies of a heart attack. Zoya and her children are left penniless and she resorts to dancing in a burlesque bar to earn money to survive. A fire accident in which almost lost her children pushes her to look for an alternate employment and she joins Axelle – a fashionable boutique – as a ladies' consultant. Zoya flourishes in her new job and soon becomes the assistant manager.
During one of Zoya's buying trips abroad for the boutique, she meets Simon Hirsch – a Russian Jew – and they fall in love. Though initially apprehensive, Zoya agrees to Simon's proposal for marriage. Nicholas has grown into a responsible young man, but Sasha gives her mother trouble every time. Zoya becomes pregnant again and gives birth to young Matthew. When the Second World War starts, Simon enlists in the army. Zoya is scared and her worst fears come true. Simon is killed in battle. Zoya is devastated by the never-ending blows that life continues to throw at her, but she realizes that she has to go on for the sake of young Matthew. She is now given the responsibility of looking after Simon's huge business empire. Pete Kelly, Simon's attorney, assists her in business and they gradually become good friends. Kelly falls in love with Zoya but he is unable to propose marriage to her. He is already married but his wife has drinking problems and their marriage has died long before.
During this time, Sasha gets married and gives birth to young Marina. Sasha and her husband die in an accident and Zoya has to take care of Marina. Nicholas's first marriage breaks up. He later marries Janet – an attorney – whom Zoya also likes. They have a daughter who they name Zoe.
Years later, Zoya hands over her control of the business empire to her sons and decides to visit her homeland one last time.
Best part of story, including ending:
Danielle Steel's Zoya is one of the first novels I remember reading. It's unbelievable how Steel manages to weave real and fictional characters together to create an evergreen masterpiece! The Russian revolution connection made for interesting reading.
Best scene in story:
Clayton comes back to Paris and gets to know that Zoya's grandmother has died, leaving her all alone. He goes to her apartment and tricks her into opening the door for him by calling out ‘telegramme'. Zoya is stunned on seeing Clayton again and he is torn by guilt at seeing the condition she is in. He asks her to marry him and go with him to America.
Opinion about the main character:
Zoya is a spunky girl with a never-say-die attitude. In spite of life dealing her severe blows one after the other, she manages to overcome them all and emerge a winner each time.