Monday, April 23, 2012

Between Shades of Gray By Ruta Sepetys

They took me in my nightgown.”

From the very beginning this book commands your 
attention. Ruta takes us on a painfully realistic journey from Kaunus, Lithuania to the North Pole. It is 1941, and Russia is annexing smaller, less powerful countries by force and instituting Joseph Stalin's version of socialist-communism. Lithuanian intellectuals and professionals are rounded up and accused of war crimes against Russia. They are branded as “pigs”, “prostitutes”, and “thieves.”

 Between Shades Of Gray is told through the eyes of Lina Vilkas, a 15-year-old Lithuanian girl. She is strong-willed, intelligent, artistic, and a bit self-absorbed. Her immediate family consists of her father, Kostas, a university provost, her mother, Elena, elegant and altruistic, and her good-natured brother, Jonas. She also refers to her beloved cousin Joana as she flashes-back to her life, before imprisonment.

Before the Vilkas family has a chance to escape Russian terror, they are captured and placed in rail cars with other victims to be either sold as slaves or put to work on "collective farms". Lina, Elena, and Jonas end up at a labor camp in Siberia. Kostas is sent to prison.

Each character is scripted brilliantly. Specifically, Lina’s character is completely believable. Although she is going through a situation that seems too bizarre to be real, the internal character traits of Lina remind the reader that the events did take place in one way or another. For example, she is often angered by her mother’s kindness toward those that are not as kind, like the share cropper, Ulyushka or “the bald man”. Moreover, she falls in love, but not before she makes a fool of herself. Lastly, although she faces years of devastation, she holds on to the hope of being reunited with her father.

The prejudice and brutality that is described in this narrative is akin to the “Diary of Anne Frank”. Ruta discloses the frightening treatment of those of the Baltic States during Stalin’s rule over Russia. One can’t help but connect the experiences of Lithuanians to that of the Jews during World War II. Lina's story is an amalgamation of many of the stories of the survivors of this period of time.

Between Shades of Gray is a phenomenal novel. Themes of family strength, the power of love, hope and perseverance, sacrifice, and coming-of-age abound throughout the narrative. Ruta reaches out to the reader, seizes your attention, and does not let go-not even when the last line is read. For, she leaves a profound impression on the heart and mind of the reader. Veils are lifted, emotions are stirred, and connections are made. Between Shades of Gray Should be on everyone's reading list.

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