lina vilkas

How did I get here? How did I end up in the arms of a boy I barely knew, but knew I didn’t want to lose. I wondered what I would have thought of Andrius in Lithuania. Would I have liked him? Would he have liked me?
—  Ruta Sepetys, Between Shades of Gray

Ruta Sepetys, Between Shades of Gray

See my other book reviews this year here.

Goodreads Rating: 4.35/5

My Rating: 2/5

You can also read it on Goodreads - here.

This is a story about a seldom-discussed event in history: the Soviet deportations from Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland. The plot focuses on the deportations of 1941. Thousands of people were labelled as ‘anti-Soviet’, pulled out of their homes and away from their families, forced into cattle cars, and then swept away, over long weeks or months, to labour camps in Siberia. There, they lived in terror and misery, and died, and kept dying. They told themselves stories of their past lives in their homeland to remind themselves that they were human beings. As Lina Vilkas reminded her brother, Jonas, they had to remember in order to hope, and to survive.

There are some obvious flaws in the writing. The story only sketchily treats the psychological impact of life in labour camps on the deportees. The prose seems tired and uninspired. It relies too heavily on the information relay to engage the reader. The characters needed more fleshing out, and were too predictable. The romance subplot between Lina and Andrius felt like it’d been shoehorned into the plot. In fact, this disappointed me more than anything else in the story. If the author wanted to highlight the poignancy of relationships born in and crushed by the desperation of life in labour camps, a platonic friendship would’ve served just as well. Besides, the fact - revealed in the epilogue - that Lina and Andrius got married after they returned to Lithuania twelve years later, is just incredible. I can’t believe that all the trauma they’d faced, especially the fact that they were just starting to know and love each other when they were separated again, would have no influence on their ability to form long-term relationships.

In effect, the novel becomes something like a historical documentary in aged grey. Grey, as has been mentioned frequently, is a thematically unifying colour in the story. It’s everywhere: from the silvery tones of Lina’s recollections of her past, to the suffocating darkness of icy mud and dirt in Altai and Trofimovsk. It’s also there in the political and social dynamics in the labour camps, and the ethics of people sentenced to death. But what is less often noted is that it also hints at the obfuscation of reality brought about by time and collective sentiments of guilt, terror, and forgetfulness.

2

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

That morning, my brother’s life was worth a pocket watch …

One night fifteen-year-old Lina, her mother and young brother are hauled from their home by Soviet guards, thrown into cattle cars and sent away. They are being deported to Siberia.

An unimaginable and harrowing journey has begun. Lina doesn’t know if she’ll ever see her father or her friends again. But she refuses to give up hope.

Lina hopes for her family. For her country. For her future. For love - first love, with the boy she barely knows but knows she does not want to lose … Will hope keep Lina alive?

“Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother’s was worth a pocket watch.” 

Between Shades of Gray follows the journey of Lina and her family after Soviet Guards barged into their home to deport them to Siberia. Despite her grim circumstances Lina doesn’t give up hope and she draws her journey hoping one day she can show the world. Between Shades of Gray takes place in 1941, and it is an extraordinary and haunting story based on first-hand family accounts and memories from survivors.

I have read a couple of World War Two books, but not in the perspective in which Between Shades of Gray is written from. I didn’t know about the Soviets deporting the Europeans and the hardship that they had to go through. So it did really open my eyes to another side of WWII, which can be forgotten and ignored. Between Shades of Gray was beautifully written, simple, but still beautiful and made you care and love the characters on the pages. The Mother (Elena) was a very strong, brave and a kind character, and definitely one of my favourites.

Lina is also very strong, like her mother, and her will to survive makes her a character I admire. Instead of being defeated in the situation she is in, she decides to write and draw the atrocities that’s going on around in order to try and tell the world. Between Shades of Gray is a grim and not a pretty book as Sepetys doesn’t try to avoid the horrors which these people faced, but she does still manage to give the characters hope, despite their situations.

Between Shades of Gray is a heart-wrenching book about survival, love and hope and any fans of Historical Fiction should definitely pick this one up!

MY RATING: ★★★★★
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

This book was lovely. The story was well paced, the characters were well written, and the message that Sepetys tries to portray is truly inspiring. I’m not typically a fan of WW2 fiction, or any war novels for that matter, but I heard such good reviews about this that I had to pick it up. It didn’t disappoint, either. The story itself is fascinating and focuses on a history that not many people are aware of or are concerned about. WW2 was such a chaotic time for all of Europe, and when it’s taught in school the information is limited to the Holocaust and the battling between nations. It wasn’t surprising to hear about what happened to the Lithuanians, but all the same it’s important to recognize that it did happen. This book does an excellent job informing and entertaining on an issue that has been unacknowledged for so long by so many.

1. Did it capture my attention? (.75/1)

This wasn’t exactly an action-packed story, but was so interesting about this is that it’s realistically based on what people went through. There weren’t incredible twists of fate or explosions or suspenseful fight scenes, but people actually experienced what some of the characters in this book experienced, and that’s what was so intriguing about this book. 

2. Did it stick with me? (1/1)

The overarching message that I drew from this is one that I try to live by each and every day, and it’s comforting to find literature that supports it the way that this book does. Also, as mentioned before, Elena Vilkas is so inspiring in the way that she lives her life and how she treats others. Her persona is definitely one to be remembered.

3. Did it teach me anything? (1/1)

It didn’t so much teach me as it did encourage me to follow teachings that I have received previously. What I drew from this book is that it’s not enough just to survive in life, you need to live. No matter how dismal the conditions were, the people that became Lina’s family found a way to not just continue their lives, but to enjoy it as well. It’s something that is very important to me to do in my own life. There are so many people that simply suffer through their lives for some reason or another, without any drive to be happy. No matter the reason for being here, whatever your beliefs are, it’s important that you appreciate the existence that you’ve been given for as long as you can. 

4. Did it make me feel? (.75/1)

Some of the reviews that I’ve read about this book mention how much it touched them. I thought it was a beautiful story, but I didn’t feel an emotional connection with a lot of the characters the way that others did. That’s not to say I didn’t feel anything from it, I just didn’t feel an overwhelming amount more than I usually do with any book I read. 

5. Was it original? (.75/1)

Of the WW2 books that I have read, which include The Book ThiefThe Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Sarah’s KeyThe Diary of Anne Frank, and Atonement, this was pretty typical of what I would expect. It seems to be very historically accurate as far as the conditions that they were living in and the kind of atrocities that were occurring during this time. One thing that was kind of disorienting about it, but wasn’t altogether a bad thing, was that this story focussed on a 17 year-old girl. I’m so used to WW2 novels being about younger children that it was kind of strange to read about Lina’s love-life. That being said, it’s not ridiculous to imagine that romances were still budding even through the harshest of times. 

Total rating: 4.25/5 stars

This was a fantastic read that I think any young adult should pick up at some point. It offers a lot of insight into a history of people that many are unaware while being entertaining as well.