Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Between Shades of Gray - Ruta Sepetys

Lina is a teenage girl living in Lithuania, and her favourite means of expression is drawing; she is a keen artist and admires the artist Edvard Munch. As the novel opens she is sitting writing to her cousin Joana, when in the space of a moment, her life suddenly changes forever. Lithuania and the other Baltic States had fallen under Soviet occupation, and one day in June 1941, Lina, together with her mother Elena and her little brother Jonas, is dragged from her home by Soviet secret police with just a hastily packed suitcase, and taken on a long horrific journey with many others, squashed into train carts like cattle, across Russia to a labour camp in Siberia. Thrown together like this, people forge friendships in the struggle to get by, some more surprising and unlikely than others. Throughout this tortuous ordeal, Lina draws whenever she can, and using whatever makeshift equipment for paper and brushes, but she is determined to try and record the people and places and events, in desperate hope of them somehow reaching her father one day; his whereabouts are unknown to the rest of the family when they are taken.

This is an epic tale of sadness, hardship, and endurance, told from the viewpoint of a young girl with a strong will to survive, and there is such a strength of spirit and determination in the face of the cruelty they suffer. It doesn’t seem appropriate to say I ‘enjoyed’ this novel, but it is well-written, very convincingly from Lina’s point of view, and tells of an aspect of World War Two that I knew little about, having read much less about region and what happened, than novels featuring Germany, England and France during this period.

The author is the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee and she lives in the USA, and she wanted to tell this story so that more people would be aware of all those from the Baltic states who lost their lives in Stalin’s purges, as even those who survived many years in Siberia and returned to live in Lithuania and the other countries were unable to speak of what happened to them for so long as they were still living under Soviet rule until 1991.

I certainly learned from the novel and am glad so many will read this about know a little about what happened. I loved the ending to the story and what Lina had done. 


  1. I read this recently and really liked it (must get it reviewed soon!). Indeed it impressed me more than Far to Go (another WWII novel which is a Booker Longlister).

  2. This was a very good read. I will look out for Far to Go too.


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