Tuesday, April 9, 2019

CRC Blog Analysis on LOST ROSES by Martha Hall Kelly

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CRC Blog Analysis:
Martha Hall Kelly’s Lost Roses
“Each Was Lost, But Now Is Found”
Martha Hall Kelly became a household name worldwide when her historical novel Lilac Girls was published on April 5, 2016.  Lilac Girls is based on the true-life character socialite and philanthropist Caroline Ferriday who is credited with championing the rights for the Rabbits, a group of 74 Polish women who were treated worse than Guiana pigs by Dr. Joseph Mengele while imprisoned in the Ravensbrück women’s concentration camp during World War Two.  

     Lilac Girls takes place between 1939 to 1950, and is narrated by three women:  Caroline Ferriday (Below Left), Polish teenager Kasia Kuzmerick (based on real life Rabbit Nina Ivanska) (Below Middle); and German doctor Herta Oberheuser (Below Right) who assists Dr. Mengele at the Ravensbrück Concentration Camp. Since its publication by Ballantine Books Lilac Girls has been published in over 30 languages and has been a New York Times bestseller.

       Ballentine Books released Martha Hall Kelly’s prequel to Lilac Girls, Lost Roses, on April 9, 2019.  Lost Roses takes place during World War 1 and the Bolshevik Revolution and is told through the voices of four women.

American socialite Eliza Ferriday (Caroline Ferriday’s mother) and her best friend Russian aristocrat  Sofya Streshnayva are close friends who have an unbreakable connection and bond with one another. Sofya’s younger sister eight-year-old Luba who is perhaps the most courageous and enduring of the four:  she’s obsessed with the stars in the sky and has an inquisitive and intelligent mind, a voice that will not be silenced, and a spirit that is perhaps the strongest of all four women.  
     Last but not least is the marginalized poor fortune teller’s daughter Varinka who is hard to hate but yet hard to love – she is perhaps the most complex character of the four women – and each reader will have his or her own opinion of Varinka and all of them will vary.  
     The Lost Roses are referring to Russian sisters Sofya and Luba – both whom have been orphaned by their mother who died and are then orphaned by the loss of their own home, their family, their friends, their freedom, and finally their own country.
In Russia, roses symbolize every aspect of life and even though the roses do not live forever - the memory of what the roses symbolize – love, friendship, relationships, patriotism, spirituality, and, unfortunately, loss - will forever be sketched in human consciousness.

       The novel’s prologue is told through the voice of eight-year-old Luba in 1912 where she, Sofya and Eliza all lie down side by side and observe the heavens; the place where Sofya and Luba insist their mother now resides.
       The novel’s first chapter opens in May of 1914 in Southampton, New York where Eliza Ferriday is throwing a farewell party for her best friend, seven months pregnant Sofya, and her husband Afon at her mother Caroline Carson Woolsey Mitchell’s house Gin Lane (Below), a Queen Anne cottage that lies next to the ocean.

     The party is also a farewell, though a temporary one, for Eliza, who is expected to travel with Sofya and Afton to Russia and stay with them for a few months. 
       Eliza’s gardener is the beholder of the novel’s name Lost Roses – and greets Sofya and Eliza with a silver Revere bowl filled with his famous, healthy, robust antique roses.
Sofya gasped, one hand to her sollen bodice.
       “We thought you’d like them,” I said.  Sofya had once been on the path to becoming an accomplished botanist and still pursued the study of plants for pleasure.  When not walking the dunes in search of beach roses she spent hours in Mother’s greenhouse grafting orchids.
       Mr. Gardener placed the bowl on the polished dining room table, the felted bottom quiet on the mahogany, smoothed his hands down the front of his white overalls and turned to leave.  Mr. Gardener’s people had known Mother’s for two generations.  He was infinitely kind and a fine-looking gentleman:  tall, with a plowman’s physique, and dark as the loamy earth he worked.
       Sofya caught him by the elbow.  “You are just a genius with roses, Mr. Gardener.”
       Each blossom was lovelier than the next:  a William Lobb moss rose in ballet pink, with spiky, mosslike growth on her sepals, a deliciously scented, flesh-colored Madame Bosanquet.
       Sofya breathed in their essence.  “I’ve never seen anything like these.  The fragrance is remarkable.  Just in from China?”
       “No ma’am.  These are antiques.  Some of the finest old roses just grow wild nowadays.”
       “He finds them in the most unlikely places,” I said.  “The cemetery, the lumberyard.”
       “I imagine they’re disease resistant, too,” Sofya said.  “You’re a magician, Mr. Gardener.  The creamy white one with a tangle of golden threads at her heart –“
       “Mrs. Mitchell’s favorite, and mine, too,” he said with a smile. “Katharina Zeimet – such a hardy repeat bloomer.  All she needs is water and a little fertilizer.”
       “He’d be happy to crate some for you, wouldn’t you, Mr. Gardener?”  I asked.  “To take home to your hothouse.”

       Eliza says tearful goodbyes to her husband Henry and daughter Caroline as she boards a ship with Luba, Sofya, Akon and their baby, Eliza’s godson, Maxwell Streshnayva Afonovich, born two months early in a hospital near Gin Lane.  Eliza plans to return back to the states in August, but due to the People’s rebellion and her experience of being robbed and injured while on a tram makes her departure for America a month earlier than originally planned.   She, accompanied by Sofya and Luba, rides the carriage through St Petersburg where she is greeted with a huge crowd of protestors.  She is afraid.  She is worried.  But Sofya and Luba seem to be in denial and have “adopted a curious denial of the flames rising around them.”
       She held me close, her chest heaving with silent sobs, and then handed me a slip of paper.  ‘I’ll write often – letters sent by Fahter’s Ministry mailbag should still get to you fairly quickly in New York.  And if you ever need me immediately, call our number here in the city or in the country, there’s a telephone at the general store in Malinov.  The proprietress Mrs. A. makes sure we get messages.
       “If the mood hits her,” Luba said.
       Sofya removed the glove from her right hand and we made the sign of the cross over each other, as Russian friends did.
       “I’ll miss you, my dear,” I said, my own eyes tearing.
       Sofya handed me a tiny, bright blue charm.  ‘I want you to have this to remember me by.”
       I took the charm, a tiny enamel telegram in French blue.
       “It opens,” Luba said.
       I lifted the tiny flap of the charm, which revealed the French phrase Ne m’oublies pas!
Don’t forget me
Luba leaned in and looked closer at the little telegram.  “Father’s first ever gift to Mother.”
“I can’t take this, Sofya.”
       “Promise you’ll think of writing to me every time you look at it.”
The coachman tapped the ceiling above us with his stick.  “Hurry, madame.  You will miss the train.”    

       By 1916 Sofya, Max, Akon, Luba, their beloved father Ivan, who works in the Finance Ministry, and his wife Agnessa all flee to their country estate Malen Koye Nebo located near the village of Malinov, Russia.   
While there Agnessa visits Fortune Teller with the agreement that if her fortune is told she will hire the Fortune Teller’s daughter Varinka in her own household.   The deal is sealed.  Varinka works as a nanny for Sofya, caring for Max, while hiding her identity and the unbreakable and dangerous relationship she is forced to maintain with Taras, the same man who was one of the bandits who robbed Sofya and injured Eliza’s hand that day on the tram.
       The family senses danger, and (as Varinka watches Max upstairs) sits at the table eating cheese and bread, discussing how they will flee that very night when they are invaded by a group of bandits – the same bandits that robbed Sofya and injured Eliza’s hand on the tram two years before. . . .

      Eliza (Left) suffers unspeakable loss and finds salvation in the Russian immigrants fleeing Russia to America in hopes of a better future.  Eliza does not know if Sofya is dead or alive.  All she knows is she wants to help her; and the only way she can is to help these women, whom she welcomes into her home.  
      Eliza finds  herself fighting for these immigrants even if it means losing her prestigious role in society, one of which is having her membership, a membership her family has held for generations, revoked by the Meadow Club ( Above Right) in Southampton, which causes her to loose her friends and her community.

      All four women begin her own quest:  one to conquer death in order to find sisterhood; one of friendship that is stronger than love; one of motherhood; and the other, a chance at true love. 

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