Monday, June 11, 2012

review: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

pub date: March 22, 2011
publisher: Philomel
pages: 346
source: library
appeals: WWII, family, survival, labor camps, Lithuania, based on a true story
content: harsh treatment

I read this book months ago, but I didn't know what to write. Based on Truth books always throw me for a loop when I try to write my ideas down. But I've been wanting to write a review for a while, especially because the author, Ruta Sepetys, came to Utah a few months ago and I heard her speak. And WOW. It was amazing.

I knew very little about Stalin and what he did during WWII to the Lithuanians. Which, after reading this book and listening to Sepetys, I know that very few people did know about Stalin's treatment of the Lithuanians. Fantastic book, but also a difficult read. This is real life, based on real experiences. And it's just horrible. All the lives that ended, all the pain and heartache and loss so many people suffered.

I love the message of the novel, though: that there is darkness in the world, but there is also hope.

Like I mentioned, listening to Sepetys speak was a remarkable experience. I got teary-eyed as she shared stories. This book is based on so many different people's experiences, including her family's.

It's been a few months, so I might have some of the details wrong, but her grandfather was in the Lithuanian army and Stalin was arresting military men so he fled. His family thought he was dead, while he and immediate family, including Sepetys' father who was a young boy, were living in a refuge camp for several years before making their way to America. The family left in Lithuania were deported to Siberia because Sepetys' grandfather fled. Sepetys' freedom came at the price of her extended family's enslavement. This is written into the story, because Lina's cousin escapes to America, causing Lina and her family to be arrested. So awful.

Sepetys said that as she collected stories from survivors of the deportation, they would say things like, "This is a wonderful thing you're doing, but no one cares. The world doesn't care about us." So the fact that Between Shades of Gray has been published in so many countries is amazing and awesome.

If you haven't watched this video on the official Between Shades of Gray website, you should. Be warned, it's heart wrenching.

Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they've known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin's orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously - and at great risk - documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father's prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives. Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart.

1 comment:

Bookworm1858 said...

I really appreciated getting to learn about this. Although I know about some of the atrocities committed under Stalin, I had never thought of what was going on in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, etc. The truth underpinning the fiction made it even more powerful.