Lost Roses

Lost Roses

Martha Hall Kelly

Penguin Books 2019


Martha Hall Kelly’s Lost Roses is a historical fiction which follows the chain of events up-to and following the fall of imperialism and the rise of Boshevism in Russia across World War I. Set across three continents and following the stories of four different women, Hall Kelly weaves a tale of resourcefulness, the power of friendship, and humanity.

Fictional Russians Sofya and Luba Steshnayva, together with a fortune-teller’s daughter, Varinka, and history’s Eliza Ferriday come together throughout the novel to show the strength of female friendships, particularly those that survive across continents.

Eliza Ferriday and Sofya Streshnayva are fast friends keeping a daily correspondence, even during wartime. The pair face a number of challenges in their day-to-day lives, only made worse by the conflict. For Eliza these challenges are taming her wilful daughter and mourning the loss of her husband. For Sofya, the stakes are much higher. As one of Russia’s elite and a relation to the imperial family, Sofya must flee for her life abandoning all she holds dear: her father, her sister, and her young son who was kidnapped during the seizure of the family property.

As Russia descends into chaos, Eliza (like history’s Eliza Ferriday) begins the American Central Committee for Russian Relief, aiming to help the women and children who fled the violence of Russia to regain their lives. She becomes an ambassador for White Russians and finding the women work and accommodation.

Sofya and Luba Steshnayva are cousins to the Tsar and through these characters we see the greatness of the Tsar and later crumble. Hall Kelly reveals that much of Russian aristocracy were in abject denial of the rising threat of the Red Army.

An entirely fictional character, Varinka embodies the desperation of the serfs during this time. A village outcast and in the care of her father’s murderer, Varinka and her unwell mother are completely destitute. When Varinka finds work at one of the rich country estates as a Nanny, she takes to the baby straight away, doting upon Maxwell in a way that verges on obsessive. Not quite a villain but certainly no hero, Varinka embodies the complex nature of humanity, portraying both great good, and great evil while simply trying to survive.

Lost Roses is a novel which asks us to interrogate what it means to be human. With history as our teacher and with fiction being a way to explore it, Hall Kelly shows good and evil side-by-side within a range of characters and situations. I would recommend Lost Roses to anyone with an interest in historic fiction, Russia, and the Russian Revolution.

4/5 Stars


Words by Kayla Gaskell

The Death of Stalin

‘I know the drill. Smile, shake hands, and try not to call them cunts.’

The Death of Stalin is thoroughly stamped with the unique talent and style of Armando Ianucci, the creator of the UK’s The Thick of It, and subsequently the US’s Veep. The film is based upon a graphic novel but the final product feels unmistakably Ianucci’s.

The film follows the political manoeuvres of soviet leaders in the wake of, surprisingly enough, Stalin’s death. It features a sizeable host of respected actors from both Britain and the United States with not one of them bothering with even a motion in the direction of a Russian accent – some even seem to go quite the other way.

This cavalcade of stars is headed by sterling performances from Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev (‘I’m the peacemaker and I’ll fuck over anyone who gets in my way’), Jason Isaacs as Georgy Zhukov (‘I took Germany, I think I can take a flesh lump in a waistcoat’), and Jeffrey Tambor as Georgy Malenkov (‘I have no idea what is going on’).

It surely seems a tough ask to find humour in such a dark time in human history but the balance is found by never turning the humour on the suffering but simply on the perverse and absurd scramble for power. In this respect, the same style present in The Thick of It and Veep can be found. Also present, and surely a necessity of an Ianucci script is the liberal use of coarse language. Peter Capaldi (Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It) may not present to lend his masterful swearing to the film but the rest of the cast certainly picks up the slack.

If the film has an antagonist, it is surely Beria, who is played in suitably grotesque and monstrous fashion by Simon Russell Beale. The head of the NKVD, instrumental in Stalin’s lengthy death lists, sexual predator, and ‘sneaky little shit’, Beria is set aside from other characters for being several measures more assured in his manipulation of the political system and being more inclined to violence. While a few jokes do go Beria’s way, he is always suitably menacing and cunning.

The film acknowledges the broad strokes of history but plays fast and loose with the smaller details. It’s not an advisable choice for historical research as it is unlikely General Zhukov ever asked Malenkov if Coco Chanel had taken a shit on his head but on the other hand, I know of no historical document that can disprove that.

Ultimately, The Death of Stalin finds its best moments in the absurdity of political manoeuvring, the awkwardness of officialdom, and the stupidity of tradition. In these respects it has a very similar tone to The Thick of It and Veep and finds even in the most serious of situations, most people, like Comrade Malenkov, ‘have no idea what is going on.’


Words by Liam McNally.