Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
From Goodreads: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.
My take: Wow.
Much has been written about WWII and conditions in concentration camps. Like many, I am drawn to it like a moth to fire. We know the hard, cold facts; six million Jews, world war, Hitler, fascist, concentration camps, showers, Warsaw. Meanwhile, east of Germany Hitler's Siamese twin, separated at birth, is reigning in terror.
Lenin was the instigator of communism in Russia. He died. Stalin was an astute student in Lenin's communism. He played a part in WWII but this simply masked what he was doing to his own country. The educated, dissenters, or possible enemies of the state, along with their children, parents, cousins or whoever was close to them were loaded into cattle cars and traveled for weeks to reach Gulags on the steppes of Siberia where they were worked to death, starved or froze.
In 1941, Stalin annexed Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. He then deported as many of the citizens as he could to Siberia, leaving their homes and valuables to be redistributed. Accommodations were always dire. Siberia is slightly beneath the North Pole and a completely forsaken land where very little grows. Apparently, some of the prisoners were deported to the North Pole.
The author writes a story based on true events. Her grandparents were Lithuanian Gulag residents in the 1940's. The author travels to Lithuania, Russia, and Siberia where she meets as many survivors as she can track down. She gathers their stories. She returns two more times for more. When she is finished gathering information, she writes a composite of the survivor's experiences for Lina, the protagonist, to see and/or experience.
Lina is telling the story. It is shocking at times, sweet at times. She shares the brutality of the Russians and of the unforgiving terrain. She also includes the humanity and selflessness by not only prisoners but also a guard or two who hates himself for becoming who he is. All characters are fictional but one doctor who discovers the ragtag group in the North Pole and refuses to sign off that they are healthy and well cared for. He intervenes.
The beauty of the author's writing is not only the way she portrays each character but the way she intersperses the current experience with Lina's memories which are poetic and colorful. They are short but give both Lina and the reader a reprieve of the current dismal circumstance.
Well written. Excellent delivery. Important story.