Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
After so many months of persuasion and nagging from my fellow bookworms, both from the internet and in my tiny circle of book-crazed friends, I finally got around to reading this book. I had my initial doubts regarding the theme of this book like the ones I had while I started with Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. As I’ve mentioned before, I am not much of a fan of history, and so a story weaved from Stalin’s reign was a bit of stretch for me since I have no retention, whatsoever, of our lessons about his fight for power.
Okay, enough with my preferences and on to the book, itself. There have been a lot of books published regarding the World War II, focused more on Hitler’s rise to power and its repercussions. Sepetys’ Between Shades of Gray gives reader a different view of the war, highlighting the harrowing rule of Stalin (the Soviets) over the Baltic states, Lithuania, in particular.
“Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother’s was worth a pocket watch.”
The story begins as Lina Vilkas, a fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl, and her family got torn apart due to their deportation to the cold lands of Siberia at the beginning of the war. Of course, at these times, people were expected to keep whatever they had in their minds about their grueling experiences hushed if they wanted to preserve their lives. But it was different for Lina. Somehow, she just couldn’t silence her opinions and so when words failed her, art became her medium, her channel to express and depict the hardships and challenges she and her fellow countrymen had to endure under the commands of the NKVD troops under Stalin. Lina drew everything she saw and felt in hopes of her father finding these drawings to serve as clues about their current location. She also drew to make documentations of their experiences which would, hopefully, be seen by everyone in the future when the war is finally over.
Like other books centered mainly around the World War II, Lina’s story gave readers a very visual and personal account of the inhumane and immoral things she had encountered throughout her journey to Siberia. From the starvation to forced labor to random killings to sex slavery, everything was given in this book. What sets it apart is the way it was written. Personally, it was a very light read, wording-wise. But then bits and pieces of flashbacks about Lina and her family’s life before the onset of the war are strewn across some chapters which, I think, helped greatly in making the readers understand more about the things that were happening to them.
My attention was also caught by two other characters in the book: Andrius and Kretzsky—two very different yet intriguing persona. I won’t give detail description of these two because I want you guys to be the ones to learn about them once you read the book. The only thing I’d tell you is that these two people will be the image of hope and love, in opposing ways, in the story. And I thing they made the book much more interesting.
I guess by reading this review, it was obvious that I enjoyed the book. I finally get it why it was being compared to Zusak’s The Book Thief and Boyne’s The Boy in Striped Pajamas. Aside from these books being about the World War II, all three were personal perceptions of the war from children’s eyes. It was through their minds that we get pictures of the actual pains and sufferings of the people through those times.
Compared to The Book Thief though, Between Shades of Gray appealed less to me emotionally but it doesn’t mean that I did not like the book. It’s just that I can relate more to Liesel Meminger than Lina Vilkas because I am attached more to books than art. And I don’t know why, but I did not shed a single tear over this book even though some events were depressing enough. Overall, I will give it a 4/5.