At what age do we begin to seriously consider our mortality? Certainly, when I was younger, the thought of death and dying never once crossed my mind. The average human life span coupled with the everyday tragedies people are afflicted with were among the topics that my seven year old self had no true concept of. My parents kept me a child for as long as possible, and for that I am forever grateful.
I’m not implying that now, at the ‘ripe’ old age of almost twenty-eight, I think about death on a regular basis. But, inevitably, mortality and the reality that a life can be cut short all too inexplicably, is more prevalently on my radar. This honestly shouldn’t surprise me considering I chose to specialize in genocide when I was a college student. One could argue that I made a study of death for four long years, trying to enter into the minds of sick individuals such as Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin. As we grow into adulthood, some of us become more aware than others of the atrocities human beings are capable of committing against one another. What precisely is it that makes one of us decide that its alright to justify killing a group of people because of their beliefs, sexual orientation, or politics? Race, too, becomes a justifiable cause for cutting a life short.
‘Lost Roses’ by Martha Hall Kelly was one of those novels that gripped me, sucking me in to the horrors of humanity while simultaneously reminding me why there are ample reasons to continue to hope. She depicts the Russian aristocracy being annihilated by the disgruntled peasants who’d determined they’d suffered enough. Yet, the response of the peasants against the bourgeois was as inhumane and inconsiderate as the actions of the tsar against his people. Reading about the ways in which the aristocracy were imprisoned, tortured, and manipulated left a sick feeling in my stomach- and when you read the scenes about charred bodies impaled on lampposts? It’s hard not to think about death. Yet perhaps more unbearable to read than the scenes of brutality, were the moments within the novel when major characters proved themselves incapable of exhibiting mercy. Visualizing Varinka, a young peasant girl, willfully removing a son from the arms of his aristocratic mother simply because she was aristocracy? I dare any reader to not have strong emotional reactions to the pleas of Sofya for Varinka to return her son to where he so rightfully belonged.
This sweeping saga follows the travails Sofya endures to reclaim her stolen child, all the while exposing a Russia that has rotted from the inside out. Meanwhile, the sense of hopelessness clinging to Sofya’s American friend, Eliza, prevails throughout the tale. Eliza, a suffragette and a premature widow, understandably panics when letters from Sofya stop arriving from across the ocean. Her determination to help Sofya blossoms into a movement of resilience. Helping countless numbers of displaced Russians, specifically women, Eliza attempts to trace her missing friend through the tragic women she meets. The steely determination Eliza has when it comes to locating Sofya is both admirable and heartwarming. In the face of evil, Kelly reiterates, there is always someone who is willing to stand up, shake their fist at death, and declare that good shall prevail.
‘Lost Roses’ is subtle in its strength and will have you hooked by the time you’ve arrived at Part Two. This novel challenges the reader to reflect on what it means to be human and how far you, as an individual, would go to survive in a situation dominated by hopelessness. How far would you go to help someone desperately in need? How long would it take for your soul to break beneath the cruel hands of torture? When you finish reading the final paragraph, undoubtedly, mortality will come to mind….followed swiftly by a resolve to enjoy every moment you receive in this life because there are plenty others who will never get the same opportunities as you. Every second is a gift. And don’t you forget it.