Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother’s was worth a pocket watch” Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys
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” – Goodreads
About the Book
Title: Between Shades of Gray
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Film Adaptation: Ashes in the Snow (2017)
Year Published: 2011
Genres & Subjects: World War II, historical fiction, young adult fiction
I am so grateful to have stumbled upon Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. For most novels centered around the events of the second world war, the subject tends to be focused on the Nazi occupation of Europe and the holocaust. Between Shades of Gray explores how Soviet Russia under Stalin had deported thousands of people from the Baltic countries (Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia) and placed them in Siberian labour camps. Many did not survive the harsh conditions of the camps. Without reading this book, I wouldn’t have known about this tragic (yet important) part of history during the second world war.
Lina, the protagonist of the novel, is an artist who creates sketches of the horrors she witnesses as a prisoner of war. Although she is only a teenager, she sees immeasurable acts of cruelty and violence. Through art, she captures the pain and suffering of those around her. I really enjoyed the inclusion of art in the novel being an amateur artist myself. Sometimes images have a powerful effect which transmits feelings no words could ever describe.
I also enjoyed the pacing of this novel. Some of the other reviewers believed that the novel was uneventful and slow. While I agree that the novel isn’t action-packed, it is extremely intense. I found myself wanting to skip to the end so that I would know who lives and who dies. Instead of being a novel of action, it is a novel which explores how far people are willing to go in order to survive.
I had read later on once I had finished the novel that Ruta Sepetys had interviewed dozens of people who were survivors of the genocide. I believe that the amount of research that went into the novel along with the interviews made this story feel extremely real and poignant. If I were to read a non-fiction account of the story, I wouldn’t have been able to grasp the harsh atmosphere and frightening conditions that was present in Between Shades of Gray.
Since its publication, Between Shades of Gray has received numerous awards and nominations. It was also adapted as a movie called Ashes in the Snow which is set to be released sometime in 2017.
I would recommend this novel to fans of Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief, as well as Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit.
Final Rating: A-
Until Next Time,