Thursday, January 5, 2012
Between Shades of Gray
Philomel Books, 2011
After reading Shades of Milk and Honey, I really wanted to read this book. Not because there's much similar about them (a light Austen-esque fantasy and a serious look at Lithuanian refugees during WWII) but because the titles were so similar to me and I kept confusing them. Well, never again will I confuse them as they were vastly different experiences.
This one features main character Lina, a normal teenager in Lithuania with loving parents and a brother. But almost immediately that world is shattered when Lina, her mother, and brother are rounded up by Soviet soldiers and deported as thieves and prostitutes. They are starved, beaten, and humiliated because they have been deemed subversive elements, antithetical to the Soviet communist ideal. They were stripped of their possessions, forced to work, and in many cases separated from their family forever.
There were two main things I appreciated about this book. First was how it educated me about something I didn't know. While I knew about Joseph Stalin's and the USSR's "cleansing" of the lands under their control, I had not pieced that together with how Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were part of the USSR. It's so abhorrent and hard for me to fathom, especially with America and other countries basically turning a blind eye. The Author's Note was wonderful, celebrating the human spirit of those countries as they regained their independence in the wake of the dissolution of the USSR.
The other was the sparseness in the writing. It wasn't overwrought, forcing me to picture the horror yet successfully conveyed it nonetheless. Lina's fight for survival was heartbreaking; she was so determined to not give in against such overwhelming odds. One of the most difficult parts for me was the realization, along with Lina, that her family helped her cousin's family escape Lithuania and thereby most probably sealed their own fate of being taken. The book also examines the moral conflicts of how some collaborated, such as in the example of a woman prostituting herself to Soviet soldiers to protect her son and how others turned a blind eye, choosing to protect themselves.
Overall: An intense historical fiction covering a part of history that doesn't receive much attention although it should; especially recommended for how the story is about fighting human evil with love and courage.