– In the 19th century, people believed that castaways could kill others in order to survive. Especially if the victims were chosen impartially, by lottery,” Charlotte Rogan, author of Lost, tells INTERIA.PL.
In “Lost,” Charlotte Rogan tells the story of an imaginary disaster in 1914. The passengers of the “Empress Alexandra” who escaped with their lives from the sinking liner drifted across the ocean in a small lifeboat for three weeks. Rogan describes how forty people fight against adverse conditions, hunger, thirst, their own weaknesses and. other survivors. Only the strongest survive, and they are put on trial for murder on land.
“Lost” is Charlotte Rogan’s first novel to appear in print. The American woman has been writing books for more than 20 years. By her own admission, because she had three children, she didn’t have a lot of time to finish the works she had started or to get publishers interested in her typescripts. Eventually she succeeded. The rights to “Lost”, which was written over 10 years, were bought by publishers from 18 countries. More about the book can be found here.
Marcin Wójcik, INTERIA.PL: What is a man capable of to save his life?
Charlotte Rogan: – Most people wouldn’t hesitate to point a speeding wheelchair at one person if it saved the lives of many. But those same people are terrified at the thought of putting one person in that wheelchair, even if that action would have exactly the same effect as the previous one. We are afraid of being stigmatized for raising our hand against another person. Even if we feel relieved in spirit that someone has done the dirty work for us, we hide it.
Have you ever been in an immediate life-threatening situation?
– No, but I used to be very sick. One of the symptoms of the infection was that sometimes I was unable to say anything or move. Once it happened when I was home alone. I thought I was going to die because I couldn’t reach for the phone and call for help. My doctor knew this could happen, but he didn’t warn me about it. He later argued that I didn’t need to worry because, in his opinion, nothing could have happened to me. This is an example of how power-crazed people behave. They think that those who are dependent on them do not need to understand the gravity of the situation.
So what keeps a person alive in an extreme situation? The will to survive? The hope of rescue?
– People who succumb to some debilitating disease have little chance of recovering. Hope therefore plays a very important role. Not only during an illness, but also during a disaster or other extreme situation. But the hope of rescue can cause people to become passive, to wait indefinitely, or to surrender to the decisions of others. Realists, on the other hand, will take action to help themselves and increase the chances of rescue. However, I think the most important skill for surviving in these situations is adaptability.
In “Lost” you describe what people sitting in lifeboats did right after the “Empress Alexandra” disaster. Namely, they were breaking hands with oars or twisting fingers of people who wanted to get into them. They simply sentenced them to death. What right does a person have to decide the life or death of another person?
– I think it is really very difficult to kill someone. Both physically and mentally. Most of us have been taught that life is sacred and that a whole group is safer if its members don’t hurt each other. But there are also people who are strong and they will fight to defend themselves.
– This question really lies at the heart of the behavior of the people portrayed in “Lost.” What action should you take in a situation where everyone dies if you do nothing? Fiction is a great vehicle for asking these kinds of questions.
What inspired you to write “Lost”?
– Two things. First, I grew up in a family of sailors. Second, I read old court case files I found at my husband’s house – a lawyer. They described the trials of shipwrecked men accused of murdering their comrades. It seemed interesting to me that people could be tried for surviving a disaster. I was intrigued by the moral dilemma of these cases arising from the fact that the law doesn’t quite work in judging acts committed in extreme situations.
Were survivors often tried for acts they committed in lifeboats?
– In the 19th century, most people believed that castaways may have killed others in order to survive. Especially if the victims were chosen impartially, by lot. In one of the most famous court cases of its kind, a sailor named Holmes was tried in 1841 not for throwing a dozen people overboard the lifeboat, but for not selecting them by lot. At the end of the day, the courts recognized that the people chosen to leave the lifeboat were always natural victims. They were simply the weakest of the weak. However, the state of superior necessity as an exculpatory argument for survivors tried for murder was challenged in 1884 during the famous Dudley and Stephens trial.
Who then is the real victim of such disasters: those who perished or those who survived?
– Obviously, those who perished gave more than those who survived. They may even be double victims – both of the disaster and of the people on the lifeboat. But the people who survived will certainly not forget the tragic events. The disaster was changing them.
Have many stories similar to the one you described in “Lost” happened in the past?
– Many shipwrecks have happened. There are also many stories about the struggle of their passengers to survive. However, I don’t know of a single one in which the survivors survived for three weeks in a lifeboat. Now everyone is talking about the Titanic, which sank exactly one hundred years ago, but there the problem was not enough lifeboats. Those for whom space could be found were rescued in a matter of hours. The story of “Lost” begins where the story of the Titanic ends – with no ship rushing to the aid of survivors.
Have you yourself witnessed any dramatic situation at sea?
– My father was a great sailor. Although we did occasionally swim during bad weather, we were never in real danger. But yes, I was afraid. Probably a lot more than I should have been, but that was probably because I was too small and too weak to help when the weather broke.
Three weeks in a lifeboat
– I think the experience of feeling powerless against nature and depending on people stronger than me allowed me to imagine what Grace, the main character in Lost, must have felt for three weeks in a lifeboat.
Would you sacrifice your life to save someone else?
– Probably like most mothers, I would give my life for my children. I wouldn’t think about it for a second. In a different situation. I think my instinct for self-preservation is fine.
Would you kill someone to save yourself or your children?
– I guess this is one of those questions no one knows the right answer to, isn’t it?