Between Shades of Gray | Ruta Sepetys

Yes – I know – more historical fiction. However Between Shades of Gray almost reads like a biography as the author has drawn on so many real life stories from extended family members and acquaintances.

This is the harrowing tale of 15 year old Lina whose family is rudely deported from Lithuania during the Stalin years of terror.

We know so much about the Holocaust, but Stalin’s war on the Baltic nations are still covered in secrecy. So many died and those that survived where so badly traumatised they could never talk about their experiences.

However this is not a bleak tale. Despite despair, hunger & illness, despite transportation in cattle cars, indiscriminate killings and the desperate coldness of the Russian and Siberian winters, this is a story of love, dignity and hope.

The characters are well-drawn – believable – you care about what happens to them. The ‘baddies’ are not all bad and the ‘goodies’ are complex, flawed individuals. The only author device that annoyed me was the flashbacks in italics at the end of chapters.

This is historical fiction at its best – informative, engaging and rewarding. This is not just another WWII horror story. Between Shades of Gray reminds us that dignity in the face of adversity is a powerful thing and that art and music have the power to keep love and hope alive in all of us.

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, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives. Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart.

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