I recently finished Between Shade of Gray by Ruta Sepetys! This novel, like the last Sepetys novel I read, is a work of historical fiction that revolves around WWII. In this novel we follow the story of Lina and her family as they are deported to Russia from Lithuania for “crimes” against the Soviets. This book was interesting, and enlightening, but it’s hard not to compare it to Salt to the Sea… and, when compared, to me, it just doesn’t hit the same level.
So, BSoG is the story of the Lithuanian family, the Vilkas, who are arrested at night by the Soviet secret police and taken by train to Russia labor camps. Our main character, Lina, her brother, Jonas, and their mother were taken at night from their home, while their father was taken from his job at a school. On the train, they meet the people they will be traveling, and staying with, throughout their imprisonment. The conditions are deplorable on the train. They are not permitted access to bathrooms, nor are they given food and water freely. We follow the 3 Vilkas family members to a labor camp, where they are forced to work for the Soviets, doing whatever the soldiers want them to be doing. They survive the winter just barely; lack of good, nutritious food almost kills Jonas. All in the camp are suffering in some fashion. When the winter finally lets up, they are moved further north to a Siberian labor camp. Here, they face even worse weather conditions. They continue to struggle for food and warm. As more die off due to the terrible conditions, we see Soviets and Americans bringing lots of food (for themselves of course) and other provisions. Eventually (SPOILER), Lina’s mother passes away due to grief from the knowledge that Lina’s father has perished. From then on out, it is up to Lina to protect her brother and survive the harsh conditions life has handed her.
Ok- so, this novel was ok. I knew Russian labor camps were a thing, and also figured that the conditions for the prisons were not good… but to the extent laid out in the book…. it’s hard to believe that this didn’t enrage Americans at this point of time. It’s crazy to me that a blind eye is turned so readily during war times.
I didn’t like that the book has such a time gap with no in between coverage. I would have really liked to know more about the additional 12 years that Lina and her brother spent in camp and how they survived. The letter at the end was just not enough for me to be satisfied with how this story turned out.
I did like how things turned out with officer Nikolai… I like how Sepetys writes these characters that it’s just so hard to hate them, but you can’t love them either. Nikolai is a mean, mean person (throwing the cans), but he also does not have a deep seeded rage hate for these people deemed criminals (giving a ride to the ladies coming from town, allowing Lina to steal wood…) Most importantly, it is his actions that allowed many, many of these people to be saved! If he had not left and notified a doctor of the conditions in the camp, many, many would have perished. I can not hate him because of that alone… but I know he wasn’t a 100% good dude.
So, have you read this book?? I don’t think it’s one that I will purchase, but I’m glad I did check it out from my local library to read it. I would probably recommend it (but only after I recommend SotS!).
Adios, friends!!! I hope you all have a great week!