Saturday, March 26, 2011

Review/Giveaway - Between Shades of Gray

Ruta Sepetys
Philomel Books (An Imprint of Penguin, USA)
In 1941, when Josef Stalin wiped Lithuania off the map, 15-year-old Lina's family is taken from their home. Separated from their father, Lina, her brother Jonas, and their mother are sent to work camps in Siberia. Under incredibly harsh conditions, the Lithuanians must fight for their survival against the uncaring and callous NKVD (later known as the KGB).

Before reading this I had heard from others how powerful the story is, and they were right. Lina is an incredibly kind, caring, compassionate, and artistic character. She's also stubborn and struggles to hide her hatred of the NKVD in order to keep her and those with her safe. Lina is an artist and her drawings are a constant part of the narrative as she draws both what she sees and how she sees it, which means that if her drawings are found she could be killed. Instead she hides these drawings between book pages and in letters that she tries to get to her father. It's in part because of Lina's artistic and kind nature that the narrative is as beautiful as it is. These are characters that, despite undergoing incredible hardships, are still able to find hope and hold onto it. Lina's mother especially is one that is constantly hopeful and giving to others.

There is a strength of spirit here that is undeniable. These characters -- and this story -- are a triumph of the human spirit. It's a tale of not only physical, but also mental and emotional survival.

That said, the events of this book are gruesome and difficult to read. Inspired by the artist Munch, Lina's drawings are often grotesque or disturbing because they reflect her surroundings and the things she's going through. After being taken from their home, her family is forced to work on a beet farm in Siberia. They are given a very small ration of bread each day as "payment" for their work and when someone gets sick and is unable to work they aren't given rations. Lina watches as the people she lives with get sick and die. She watches a young woman who has lost her infant be shot in the head right in front of her. She sees her younger brother become incredibly sick with scurvy. The mother of Andrius, a boy she has feelings for, is forced to prostitute herself to the NKVD officers in order to save the life of her son. These are a short list of the atrocities Lina and her fellow Lithuanians face in exile and they are all portrayed in a starkly honest way. This is, as others have said, a very powerful book. It's beautiful and sad and all the more important because of how incredibly real it is. Through the characters are fictional, the events and many of the experiences are real -- things that actually happened to Lithuanians who were exiled and that the author, Ruta Sepetys, found out about through her extensive research.

While I typically keep the books that I really enjoy, this is one that deserves to be passed on and shared, so I'm giving my ARC away to one lucky reader. 
Due to shipping costs, US addresses only please. This giveaway will run until April 2nd.


  1. I picked this up after scanning the blurb, because I love Russian history but I was a bit concerned as to whether it would be accurate... but I'm definitely excited to read it after your review! It just moved up my TBR list :-)

  2. I want to read this so bad it almost hurts.

    (P.S. I accidentally entered twice because I hit enter before completing my address. I swear I'm not trying to cheat.)