Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

On June 14, 1941, the Soviet Secret Police arrested fifteen-year-old Lina Vilkas, her ten-year-old brother James, their mother, Elena, and thousands of other Lithuanians. They were packed into cattle cars labeled “Thieves and Prostitutes” for forty-two days and taken to slave labor camps in Siberia. Those who ultimately survived the trip, starvation rations, brutal work, and Siberian winters were prisoners for ten to fifteen years. Their crime? Being “Anti-Soviet,” according to the Kremlin.

 For this Teen novel, Author Ruta Sepetys interviewed family members who survived the deportation and labor camps. She also consulted historians and government officials. Lina and most of the characters in Between Shades of Gray are fictional, but the events depicted are based on accounts by surviving deportees.

 Lina is an artist who vows to keep a record and send coded messages to her father, who was taken a few days before the mass arrests. In the novel Lina describes what she sees and draws: corpses thrown from the cattle car at water stops; a little girl who always plays with her doll; the camp where she works digging holes with handle-less garden trowels and spades; standing in line for the daily ration of 3 grams of bread.

 Lina sees her brother almost die of scurvy. She witnesses deaths from diphtheria. Some fellow prisoners go crazy and are shot.

 Yet all is not bleak. The prisoners pool their resources to celebrate Christmas. A librarian tells the children stories. Sometimes, extra food even comes their way.

 This was a hard book for me to put down. While it tells of a terrible, largely unknown (by Westerners) event in history, Sepetys skillfully makes her characters come alive, so that the reader cares about their fates. You can find Between Shades of Gray at your library in print,or as a downloadable electronic book to read or to listen to.

1 comment:

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I had an opportunity to read this in 2010 and was rendered absolutely speechless by it. Such an incredible story, one that the history books certainly don't speak much on, if at all.

Here is my review: