Lina is a typical 16-year-old Lithuanian girl when she is arrested and taken into custody in 1941 by Stalin’s mercenary Secret Police. Ruta Septys, in her first novel, “Between Shades of Gray,” researches her Lithuanian heritage to tell the story of the early years of the Soviet Annexation of the Baltic. Armed with lists of state criminals that included lawyers, doctors, and school teachers, the police invaded homes and deported the men to prisons and the women and children to forced-labor camps in Siberia.
Lina, her younger brother, and their mother are transported in jam packed train cars to the camps which are disturbingly similar to any state camp where genocide is typically the only way out. Lina holds onto hope that her family will be reunited. She keeps a visual and written journal hoping to get something to her father in prison. This risky endeavor is what saves Lena, preserves the story, and gives her a portal to express love and remain hopeful.
Throughout the book, Septys, grapples with the capacity of the human spirit. One character wonders whether it would be harder to die, or to be the one who survives; another rats out his neighbors, only to change his mind later—and then has to live with the consequences of his actions. Upon finishing the book, we have to ask ourselves if, under the same circumstances, we could survive.
Review by Sarah Bagby
Sarah's book reviews can be heard on alternate Mondays on KMUW 89.1. You can read her most recent review below or listen to it here:http://www.kmuw.org/index.php/book/august_15_between_shades_of_gray_by_ruta_sepetys/