|Drink something hot when reading about Siberia!|
Category: I heard about this book about a year ago, when I read something about how people were confusing it with Fifty Shades of Gray. I put it on my list of books to read. A few weeks ago, my thirteen-year-old cousin read it, really liked it, and recommended it to me.
My thoughts: This is a wonderful book! It actually made me cry (more on that later). Between Shades of Gray is narrated by fifteen-year-old Lina Vilkas, a Lithuanian budding artist, who is arrested with her mother and younger brother and deported by the Russian secret police, the NKVD, along with other Lithuanians during one of Stalin's purges. They endured a torturous six-week journey to Siberia in cattle cars that reminded me of descriptions of those who were transported on slave ships. When they reach their destination, Lina’s family is forced to participate in collective farming under the watchful and brutal eyes of NKVD officers. Lina tries to send her father, who was also captured, messages through her art. Later in the book, she and her family are transported again, into the freezing depths of Siberia. Here, people around them freeze to death, and diseases like typhoid run rampant.
One of the things I love about being a reader is that it allows me to learn, or begin to learn, a subject about which I knew absolutely nothing before. It allows me to see a glimpse into a very specific world. So I am grateful that I came across this book, because it tells of a story that I was quite unfamiliar with. I remember, in seventh grade, having to name all of the former USSR countries—some with difficult names like Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan—for a map test. Part of me wished the USSR had stayed together a little while longer, so I could just write “USSR” on the map test, instead of remembering and naming over a dozen countries with names that were difficult to spell. I felt a little ashamed thinking about that while reading this book. Those countries like Lithuania, which were absorbed into the USSR, suffered a great deal for decades, and the fact that they eventually became their own nations again is a blessing.
Now, during the course of my life, I’ve read a LOT of books. But I rarely cry at something I’ve read. And, as I said before, his book made me cry. Lina and her family endure so much, and there are some heartbreaking moments in this book. Now, when I look at a map of Europe and see Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, I won’t see some random countries I had to memorize to pass a test. I now realize that these countries once disappeared from the world map, and that it’s special that they are independent nations once again.
Great passage: Images streaked and bled together, contorted by my speed—Ulyushka, grinning with yellow teeth; Ona in the dirt, her one dead eye open; the guard moving toward me, smoke blowing from his pursed lips—Stop it, Lina—Papa’s battered face looking down at me from the hole; dead bodies lying next to the train tracks; the commander reaching for my breast. STOP IT! I couldn’t.
Up next: Murder on the Orient Express