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.
This was a wonderful novel and although it was written for a young adult audience, it can be enjoyed by all ages. This book depicts another crime against humanity from our world history that was unknown to me before reading this book. Young Lina is our narrator that we follow on her treacherous journey of survival.
We see events through Lina's eyes-one moment she is safe at home with her family, and the next she is rounded up with others and sent off on a journey that will change her life forever. Not knowing where they are going, when or if they will ever return, and a suitcase filled with their meager belongings, they unwillingly follow their captors directions. When they are first led to a train station I imagined they were definitely being sent to a concentration camp with death impending soon. This wasn't the case as Stalin planned for the majority of his prisoners to serve work detail under inhumane conditions.
The train journey is only the beginning of their torture as they are given barely any food to eat and conditions are hardly liveable for livestock, let alone people. As more people are crammed into the train cars along the way, they must learn to live together in the closed quarters, allowing them to create friendships and relationships that will help them in the months to come.
The first destination for Lina and her family is a work camp, where slave labor is put into full force. Much of this novel reminds me of the Holocaust, and treatment of the prisoners falls into this category. Everyone is worked until they have no strength left and daily food rations are minimal. Everyone learns to do what they need to do in order to get by, and many use the relationships that were developed on the train to assist them in their daily living.
We learn throughout the novel from Lina's flashbacks that the reason for their imprisonment is political. Anyone who had a different motive or ideal from Stalin was captured and either sent to a prison or a work camp. It was interesting to see this revelation through Lina's young eyes since she did not truly understand the motives.
This was a wonderful story even though it was difficult to read at times. It read very quickly and smoothly for me as it only took me a few days to complete it. With themes of family, love, war, and morals, there is so much more to this story than I described above. I don't hesitate in recommending this novel for either personal leisure or as a book club discussion.
My Rating: 4/5
Disclosure: This book is from my personal library and I read it for my own entertainment and as a book club discussion.