“As If Death Summoned” by Alan E. Rose— The AIDS Epidemic: The Early Days

Rose, Alan E. “As If Death Summoned”, Amble Books, 2020.

The AIDS Epidemic: The Early Days

Amos Lassen

The premier release of the new Amble Books Press is a beautiful book by Alan E. Rose about the early days of the AIDS epidemic. The book beginsin 1936 when a man was caught in a blizzard on the Bogong High Plains of Australia. A search party found him unconscious and took him to the nearest township where he died Afterwards there were stories of a lone figure seen wandering over the heathlands. When he is approached, he vanishes and nothing of him can be found. Sixty years later, a young American returns from Australia and he is haunted by dreams of what happened back then on the Bogong High Plains. Ten years of working on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic there, he, too, is lost but in a different kind of blizzard; one  that has already taken the lives of thirty-one friends of whom the last was his partner and lover. He has reached burn out and is exhausted and often  often mistaken for one of those infected with whatever took his friends and lover but he has stopped correcting people. There was a time when life was not just about death and he tries to remember how that was. As he works with an AIDS organization in Portland, Oregon, he begins to understand his connection to the Bogong High Plains.

Using what happened at Mt. Bogong, Alan Rose has written a story about dealing with grief and how to rebuild a life after it has been shattered by loss. While this is a story about the epidemic, it is also and more importantly a story about accepting what we have experienced including the loss of life and love. It was a terrible time yet it was a time that we learned the value of life. I found myself remembering those I loved and lost and I was able to celebrate having had them in my life. Rose has written an emotional tale that causes us to both laugh and cry and to see that there indeed can be light in the darkest of times. Along with the grief that we shared, a new sense of community developed as the epidemic raged.

The man who tells the story is not named; he is an everyman who represents what we felt. He decided to return to America from Australia after his partner’s death and is asked by the health department to organize and maintain an HIV testing and counseling clinic in Portland, Oregon. He recruits and trains others, solicits funds and works with community outreach specialists. He forms a small group of HIV-positive gay men as he works, he deals with his partner’s death and his own relationships as he faces the challenges of the disease. We enter his mind in order to experience what he feels and this makes this more than just a novel but a look at ourselves. As he works through his grief, we discover a lot about ourselves.

Rose gives us very real characters with which we interact throughout the story and who teach us a great deal. Publishing this during the time when we are all once again suffering from a pandemic makes it all the more real and all the more powerful. While many of us have put HIV/AIDS in the back of our minds, we see the importance and necessity of remembering.