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Message to Readers

Ah, I hope this is in time! This is a great book, I really encourage you to read it (keep in mind it may be a hard read). I'd love any feedback on this review. Thanks for reading!

Between Shades of Gray, by Ruta Sepetys- a review

February 17, 2019

Between Shades of Gray, by the Lithuanian-American author Ruta Sepetys, is a touching International best-selling historical fiction novel that captures readers and compels them to learn about a dark history long forgotten by humanity. This heart-breaking and, contemporaneously, heart-warming story begins in 1941 and sheds light on the deportation of the inhabitants of the baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) to Siberia under the dominance of communist Russia during the regime of Stalin's totalitarian dictatorship. This book accompanies horrifying scenes with the strong and ever-present determination, love, and strength of the characters that fight courageously through the difficulties of their treacherous journey: through family losses, labor camps, and other atrocities. It is important to note that this can be quite a sad story, and some scenes may not be appropriate for certain ages. Because of this, I recommend it only for readers who are old enough to handle this and that know they are ready to read such a story. As The Guardian London notes, it is "Hard to read, but even harder to stop reading." This book is enthralling and definitely worth reading at some point.

This book is enriched by several wonderful characters that have a deep and intricate personality. Each of them is essential to the story and helps build the complex setting of the book. They reveal both positive and negative personality traits to the reader, creating a balance of the protagonists' ideals that is all but sugar-coated.
The protagonist is Lina Vilkas, a fifteen-year-old girl with a plenitude of artistic talent that refuses to conform to the
un-written rules set by the Russian government. Risking her life on several occasions, she never finds herself encumbered in her artistic expression and continues, throughout the book, to prove true courage to the reader. Lina's father is separated from the family at the beginning of the book, and Lina will constantly try to contact him through her drawings, with clues of where to find his family hidden in them. She often uses her drawings to depict what life is like for the deportees, stubbornly sure to document the entire journey. She is aware that she can be murdered for this, but she doesn't really seem to think twice about it. Though she is still quite young, she has a clear set of ideals and will fight for the truth to be known after this treacherous chapter of human history.
Lina's mother is an incredibly brave woman that never reneges on her ideals of loyalty, strength, and ever-lasting family (and friend) love. Knowing how to speak the Russian language, she has an occasion to work for the NKVD (the group of officers that deports and abuses those who were brought to the labor camps) by spying on the other deportees. Will she value more her loyalty to her fellow deportees or her love for her family (in the possibility of earning preferential treatment for herself and her children, Lina and Jonas)?

The most incredible character, in my opinion, is Nikolai Kretszky. This character is the most intricate, and he will often confuse and arise doubts in the reader, who will forever be eager to learn more about him. Kretszky is a very young officer of the NKVD. He is part of the group that forces inhumane conditions on the deportees, but he shows a softer side on various occasions. He subtly helps the deportees from time to time, in small ways that are risky for him. This character is difficult to comprehend, and Lina doesn't quite trust him for most of the book (contrary to her mother's opinion of him). Kretszky is a very interesting character and a personal favorite for the complexity of his personality.

The author, Ruta Sepetys, is the grand-daughter of someone who was lucky enough to escape from the deportation of Lithuanians. Because of this, it is important to Sepetys to tell the truth of what occurred, to let humanity know of this so that no such disgrace may ever happen again. This story long remained in the shadow of history due to the contemporary abomination of the Holocaust. Russia was fighting against nazi Germany, alongside the Allies, so it took on a mask as a "good" country in the war. It is important for more people to read this book, because doing so will increase the universal conscience of past atrocities. This is essential to avoid for something like this to occur ever again.

This splendid novel easily earned its rightful place as my favorite. The writing is high-quality. The plot is sad, but never monotone, and it includes flashbacks to Lina's life before the deportation. The characters are interesting and complex, guiding the reader through the journey along with them. This book exposes the reader to the violent and harsh truth of the world we live in. It admits what humans are capable of, both in a negative and in a positive sense: men and women can use their power to hurt others and for self-gain, or they can use their strength and determination to bring others together, to fight for justice and for love. As Lina notes in the epilogue, "...evil will rule until good men or women choose to act.... Only then can we ensure that this kind of evil is never allowed to repeat itself."
Please note: this book is quite a hard read and might not be adequate for readers who know that they prefer to steer away from certain subject matters. Know that this can be quite a sad story, and some scenes may not be considered appropriate for certain ages. Because of this, I recommend it only for readers who are old enough to handle this and that know they are ready to read such a story.


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  • February 17, 2019 - 11:06am (Now Viewing)

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