The debut title by John Lawrence is currently awaiting publication.
Based on a true story, Salting the Tears is a tale of hardship and love. Set in Ukraine, Russia and Crimea, the book follows the lives of Semyon Arshin and Maria Grivko from the Russian Revolution to the break up of the Soviet Union.
The book opens with a dramatic prologue that finds Semyon struggling to survive in the waters of the River Dnieper after being severely wounded in an explosion during the Second World War.
The main story continues by following the lives of Maria and Semyon separately, as they grow up in their respective countries of Ukraine and Russia. Maria and Semyon both come from farming backgrounds and each loses their father in tragic circumstances. Extending from just before the Russian Revolution to the end of Word War Two, it traces the circumstances that take them to Crimea and their eventually meeting. For Semyon, this period is about his socialist ideology getting the attention of the Party, which helps him to get good work, promotion and preferential postings in the army. His time in Kursk, Moscow and in the military, shields him from the worst of Stalin’s repressive programs and leaves him with a rose-tinted view of the administration. Maria has a much tougher time. Her family is forced to relocate to a cooperative farm, with its drop in social status and wealth. This reduces her opportunities but allows her to nurture her interest in plants and medicine, spurred on by a reclusive herbal practitioner who becomes her mentor. A fortunate marriage takes her away from the village and sets her on a path to becoming a nurse. Her negative experience of Stalin’s rule is reinforced when she has to face the consequences of the terrible famine of 1932/1933 and then the 1941-1944 occupation of Crimea. The latter, seeing her interrogated by the German SS on several occasions.
The middle section demonstrates love’s capacity to break down even the most stubborn of life’s philosophical barriers as it follows the protagonists’ journey into marriage. Existing family relationships reemerge with troublesome and tragic consequences, while their own son’s behaviour casts a shadow of shame to challenge the strength of the affection that holds them together in spite of their opposed political views. Semyon feels that he must always protect his wife from criticism because of her inappropriate political talk, which he is able to do because of his status in the community as a war hero. Maria believes that she is always nurturing her husband with her more open thinking and through her much admired domestic prowess.
In the final section of the book, their daughter’s waywardness, results in Maria and Semyon being given their granddaughter, Alona, to raise as if she were their own. Alona develops a very strong bond with her grandparents that is periodically tested by her mother returning to the family home in the intervals between a string of failed marriages. As Alona reaches adolescence, Maria starts to exhibit gradually worsening signs of dementia that twice see her spend time in a mental institution – the second time being shortly before her death. Semyon’s diabetes causes complications with his war injuries, eventually forcing Alona to face a terrible decision, now a young mother herself.
While this book is written as a work of fiction, the main characters, places and events are all real. Where necessary, names have been changed and, when actual locations could not be identified reliably, others have been chosen that match most closely the descriptions and information available.