Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Septeys has been on my list for a long, long time. This summer I finally moved it up the TBR pile and read it. I'm glad I did, but having just finished it 20 minutes ago, my heart hurts. Normally a book takes me a day or two to read. It took me more than a week to get through Between Shades of Gray. It was beautifully written, but it was so, so hard.
Summary (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. Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart.
I won’t be writing this review in my typical format, because it’s hard to use those categories here. Instead, I’m just going to give you my thoughts as they come to me (and with some proofreading afterward). I could give you your typical review elements—the character development was phenomenal, the added love story very believable, the prose breathtaking—but I don’t think that’s the point.
I studied European history in high school. We spent a good bit of time on World War II and time on Russia and Communism, but somehow any bit of the deportation of the Baltic States that we touched on was minor, glossed over, thrown in with the rest.
The focus of our studies was on Hitler and the atrocities he committed (which were many and horrifying). But Russia was an Ally. The U.S. fought with them, so their war crimes weren’t the focus of my American education.
What they did to these people was horrifying. I know that Between Shades of Gray is fiction, but it is well-researched fiction. And you should read it. You should read it because you need to know what happened to the people living in the countries that Russia steamrolled. It’s earth shattering and heartbreaking and I hate that I didn't know.
Like I said: I knew somewhere in the back of my memory that Russia did horrible things. But I didn’t equate it with the things that Germany did.
Read this book because the writing is wonderful. Read this book because the story is haunting. But really, read this book because you need to know what happened. You owe it to yourself, and you owe it to the countless lives that were destroyed by Communist Russia.