Monday, August 06, 2012

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of Gray should not be confused with Fifty Shades of Grey. The one is about a teen's struggles through the Soviet's evacuation of Lithuania and the other is an adult romance novel, therefore they have no connection whatsoever.

Lina is fifteen-years-old and an aspiring artist when the NKVD knocks on her family's door one night and gives them twelve minutes to pack up and leave. She's then loaded up into a cramped train car with her mother and brother and given a daily bucket of food and water for the entire car to share. Her father had been taken elsewhere and she's desperate to reconnect with him, believing that her art can lead him back to her through clues in her drawings. Lina bonds with her fellow evictees, especially a young boy named Andrius. Soon they are brought to a work camp and forced into hard labor with little rations. There they are encouraged to sign a document sentencing them to 25 years of labor and admitting that they are criminals. Lina and her family fight this and their time in the camp eventually comes to an end when a handful of the people in the camp, including Lina and her family but not Andrius, are loaded into trucks and sent to an area near the North Pole where they are sentenced to work and survive harsh conditions that many do not survive. Lina has to find the strength to survive and hold onto hope that she will make it back to her father and Andrius.

I have never been big on history but I've always known a fair amount about Hitler and the Holocaust although not very much about Stalin and what he did, which is what this book focused on. It was very eye opening to realize that the Holocaust was not the only genocide going on at the time. In terms of the book itself, it was a good story as you struggled with Lina to make sense of this unimaginable situation she's been forced into. I would have loved to have seen her drawings, however. I don't know if that would have detracted from the seriousness of the novel, but she constantly talked about drawings and leaving clues and I think it might have enhanced the story to give the reader a clear visual from the eyes of the survivor, especially because the drawings were mentioned so often. It might have helped us connect with Lina and her situation. I didn't like the ending of the novel. It ends abruptly and then there's a letter written about twelve years later that doesn't answer some of the important questions like: how were you honestly able to survive twelve years in the North Pole? what really happened to your father? how were you rescued? For me it was a very unsatisfying ending. There was some closure, but by no means enough.

This is a great book to help the world realize that the Jews under Hitler were not the only ones in Europe treated like criminals for doing nothing because Stalin was doing the same thing and all you had to do to be a target was live in the country he wanted. This books shows the struggles to survive and hold onto hope that it will all work out in the end.

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