I’ve been speaking with HM Flath and he’s been telling me all about his novel set in Russia. Here’s what he has to say.
1. Cobbled Life is a story about a conscripted soldier in 1908 Russia. How much of this story is fictional and have you used any events from this time, or interpreted other historical accounts that you can tell us about?
* The Tsar’s desire to modernize and build up the Russian army in 1908 is real as he did not want to be embarrassed in battle.
* The battles on the Eastern front between 1914 and 1915 along the Gorlice-Tarnow line are real.
* The Russian Revolution of 1917 is real.
* The existence of Pokovnik Constantine Vasiletvich Zaharoh is real.
* The description of the immigrant ship and train are real.
* The Flath family settlement in Saskatchewan is real.
* Many of Otto’s personal experiences while in Russia and then also in Canada are real.
* The dates are all real.
– The conversations are fictional.
* Some of the characters are fictional, ie. the Pokovnik’s family.
* Clara’s family, the Jungs, and their background contains much conjecture on my part as I had only snippets of information.
Events that are utilized:
-World War I – Eastern front battles
-The Russian Revolution of 1917
* The existence of the Spanish flu epidemic and its consequences
* The Great Depression of the 1930’s
2. Obviously 1908 Russia was a very tumultuous time, what does your leading character Otto, face as he travels on his perilous journey?
Upon entering Russia, Otto was confronted with prejudices of language, ethnicity, cultural and social status which were underlying themes through the whole book. The dramatic tumultuous time for Otto began in 1914 with the outbreak of WWI. He faced danger, the horrors of war and the possibility of physical harm and/or death, loyalty in the face of danger, escape from Russia during the Russian Revolution, the tragic death of his mother and then the difficulties of life as an immigrant during the Great Depression.
3. What type of man is Otto and how does he develop throughout the story?
Otto begins as an immature, inexperienced, nineteen year old who has had a fairly easy life until the time he was conscripted and where the story begins. His character grew much stronger as he lived and learned from personal experiences, from living with the Pokovnik’s family, from
being on the front during WWI, escaping from Russia, immigrating, etc. He grows into becoming a loyal devoted family man – strong and committed.
4. Are there any other significant characters in Cobbled Life you can tell us about?
* Martin is Otto’s father and the man responsible for the first Flaths to emigrate to Canada.
* Constantine Vasilevich Zaharoh, Pokovnik of a cavalry regiment in Russia’s third army, was Otto’s boss and mentor (father figure) for 9 years. Otto went to the battle lines on the Eastern front as the valet to Pokovnik Zaharoh.
* Anya Oleshenko was Otto’s secret love who played a major role in several of Otto’s decisions.
* Clara Jung became Otto’s wife. She provided strength and loyalty to their marriage and family and eventually became the mother to their nine children.
* Gustav Jung, Clara’s father, was a strong, ambitious, solid patriarch of the Jung family whose choices lead to the emigration of that family.
5. What is your favorite part of the story? (You can use a snippet of it if you like.)
There are several. One of my favorite scenes is in Chapter 6 when Otto takes the Pokovnik’s daughter to watch the ice break-up in the spring.
She fell backwards onto the bridge deck and lay there. Otto only had heard a small cry for help and quickly turned his attention to Natalie who was lying on the ground. Instantly, Otto fell to his knees and peered into Natalie’s face. He then sensed another presence. His eyes gazed up and not a foot away, he found his eyes locked to another set of the most beautiful soft blue eyes he had ever seen.
Another of my favorite scenes is found in Chapter 11 when the Pokovnik spoke to Otto prior to their departure for the battle fields.
This is total madness. What is there to gain? A few pieces of land? For whom? We are going to kill each other and for what reason? Because someone else speaks a different language? Because others worship God in a different way than we do? Because others wear their clothing differently? Because others have skin and hair colors that are different from ours? It makes no sense to me, Otto. All that every one of us just wants, is to be happy…… to have a family ……. to be safe ……. to live without fear. Look at yourself and the other two million men in our army …… what do they want? Do they want to lose their lives just because the Tsar wants to prevent Franz-Joseph of Austria from ruling this pathetic piece of ground? Of course not! This is sheer madness. It makes me sick. I have been in battles and I know what is coming.”
6. Who is your target audience – who will love this book and who should read it?
My target audience is anyone and everyone who has emigrated or has family which has emigrated, experienced war, poverty, prejudice and/or bigotry. I especially hope that young people who often don’t appreciate their heritage would read and reflect upon the many messages interwoven in the fabric of the story.
7. What do you want readers to come away with once they have finished Cobbled Life?
I want the reader to leave with an appreciation of their own situation, an appreciation of the Canadian way of life and a debt of gratitude to their forbearers and to those who made Canada, as a nation, possible.
8. What is next for you HM Flath?
I am presently working on a second manuscript. All that I would like to say is that it too, is historical fiction.
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