Between Shades of Gray

Between Shades of Gray

Philomel Books
March 22, 2011
February 3, 2023 February 9, 2023
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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.


About the book

We are in Lithuania at the beginning of the Second World War, Lina with her family is deported to Siberia in a labour camp, but she doesn’t know why. Her family, like other families of university professors, writers and doctors, is on the black list that the Soviet police uses to deport people. She only wants to draw and perhaps this ability is her only salvation.

What I think

The testimony of this book is very strong, but the writing left me a bit perplexed. The chapters are very short which personally makes me read very fast, but I found it slow-paced.

The book is very important, the situation of the three Baltic countries is hidden by the other tragedy of those years and not much is studied in school books either. We know the conditions of the Jews during the Nazis, the deportations and privations. We know the gulags existed, but what was really going on there? We don’t focus too much on it. And so you have to read a book like this, but I didn’t like the writing. You can say once, maximum twice, of their hardships, but I find this book to be just a repetition of a list of things they don’t have, things they have to steal, and illnesses. For heaven’s sake, as mentioned these things must be denounced, but repeated many times in the same novel, it almost seems that there is no substance.

In addition to hating Russia even more, this book also made me realise how hypocrites they are. They boasted of having liberated Auschwitz, they made propaganda forcing Mengele’s children to parade in front of the cameras when they, too, are like the Nazis. The only difference is that they didn’t have gas chambers, but otherwise they were exactly the same. And to think that the Russian people are so blind. Obviously not all of them are, as there are always exceptions, but most seems, to me, somewhat careless and brain washed by the regime.

However, I didn’t like the book that much. The fact of denouncing what happened in Siberia under the Soviets obviously yes, and I found it important, but how it is written didn’t totally convince me.

What a coincidence, I’m publishing this review on the same day and month it was first published.

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