Every time I read historical fiction novels I am sad that my history classes included a great deal of memorizing dates and names and places, but didn't include much else. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys is a novel that brought to life Stalin's plan to exile Lithuanians, Latvians and Estionians during World War II, a little known event in history.
In 1941,Lina and her family are forced to move quickly and without warning - much like Jews were moved to concentration camps during World War II. They eventually find out that their father has been placed in prison and Lina, her mother Elena, and brother Jonas are kept together, but moved with thousands of other Lithuanians to a place where they are forced to work in beet fields. This story reminded me a great deal of the tortures that Jews went through during World War II. Yet, while I have heard a great deal about the Holocaust, the fate that befell this population was unknown to me until now. Lina spends twelve long years fighting to just survive. She is always hungry, sickness is a problem and many, many people died (It is said that twenty million people died under Stalin's reign of terror). At one point Lina and her family are moved to a camp close to the Artic Circle where conditions are even worse than before, if that's possible.
Lina's story is based on Sepetys' own family's own experiences during this time. Sepetys' father was the son of a Lithuanian military official. While he and his family were able to escape to Germany, like Lina's cousin Joana, the rest of the family spent years being mistreated and tortured. Sepetys also traveled to Lithuania and interviewed others about this period in time. Her vested interest in depicting this story accurately and the research she has put in to it, have created an amazing story.
Bookreporter.com is featuring Between Shades of Gray as their Bets On Pick. Visit their website as well to learn more about the author and watch an author interview.
This book may very well end up as one of my favorites of 2011. The story and writing are amazing and Between Shades of Gray sheds light on a portion in history that little is known about.