‘Between Shades of Gray’ by Ruta Sepetys
Let me get it right at the outset. This book has nothing even remotely to do with the
infamous Grey series. In fact. nothing could be as dissimilar.
15 year old Lina leads a happy life with her parents and younger brother in their home in Lithuania even as rumors of a Russian invasion wafts in the air. Until one day when her father fails to return home from work and soldiers come knocking at their door the next day. She, along with her mother Elena and brother Jonas is taken on a train journey that lasts almost eight weeks. For a family that has led a luxurious life, life in a boxed compartment where people are packed in and the only way to relieve themselves is through a hole on the floor, it is a hell that they could have never imagined even in their worst dreams.
The story takes us to a beet farm in Siberia where they are made to work in the most extreme and pathetic conditions and from there to the polar tundras by the Laptev Sea(northern coast of Siberia) . The conditions in which the captives are expected to live has to be read to be believed. Lina is a gifted artist and she keeps track of the places, incidents and people through the sketches that she guards defiantly.
What makes the book enjoyable is the little acts of goodness that keep the hopes up for a group of otherwise condemned lot. The tale also tells us how even among the cruelest , there could still be a shimmer of light. What captures you most is Elena’s hope and belief that her husband will find them and that keeps the will in them to survive at any cost. She teaches her children not to judge anyone or what they do. She is truly what the soldier Kretzsky describes her as , ‘Krasivaya‘
“It means beautiful, but with strength,” he slurred. “Unique.”
The pain and longing of a first love is beautifully captured in the evolving relationship between Lina and young Andrius. The author has beautifully brought out the emotional dilemma of a helpless boy where he tells Lina why his mother is doing what she does and why he cannot do anything about it.
The persecution of the Jewish race by Germans is something even a small child would know, so much has been written and discussed about it. Some of the books that I’ve been reading in the recent times have taken me through hereto unknown stories and perspectives of the word wars. I am left wondering how many more could be there from each part of the world. What do these wars finally achieve?
The author’s father was a Lithuanian military officer. In the author’s note she says how even after the war was over how “Speaking about their experience meant immediate imprisonment or deportation back to Siberia”. Ultimately, what the book leaves you with is a never ending sense of hope and peace. In her own words,
“Some wars are about bombing. For the people of the Baltics, this war was about believing. In 1991, after fifty years of brutal occupation, the three Baltic countries regained their independence, peacefully and with dignity. They chose hope over hate and showed the world that even through the darkest night, there is light. Please research it. Tell someone. These three tiny nations have taught us that love is the most powerful army. Whether love of friend, love of country, love of God, or even love of enemy – love reveals to us the truly miraculous nature of human spirit.”
Verdict – A quick read that packs quite a punch. Gives one more view of the II World War, from a Russian side