Thursday, February 21, 2013

Between Shades of Gray

When someone suggested reading "Between Shades of Gray" for the Lunch and Library, a few eyebrows lifted and a few noses wrinkled. Admittedly, I wasn't sure how we could discuss the racy material without turning a few shades of red. Then, there was clarification.

"Wait! It's not that book," explained our leader. And while I have not yet read 50 Shades of Grey, I'm guessing the two books are radically different.

Between Shades  by Ruta Sepetys is a historical novel which takes place in 1941. If I were to tell you that this book depicts certain atrocities, you might think the book is set in Europe, or centers around Hitler. But actually, the book begins its tale in Lithuania where another evil ruler, known as Joseph Stalin, is beginning his reign of terror which tolls the lives of twenty million.

I asked my husband if he could imagine the military coming to our house, ordering us out with only a smattering of our belongings to ship us through Canada–to the Arctic–on a cattle train only to be sold off to work as slaves or to be imprisoned. Oh, not to mention our family would be split up.

Political "dissidents"(as marked by the Soviets) of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia (along with their families), were rounded up and sent to prisons or camps in the grueling conditions, under the cruel eye of the Russian guard. In this story, 15-year old Lina treks to Siberia with her mother and brother–along with many other characters along the way while finding out her father has been imprisoned. They can only hope he is still alive.

There were a few points in the novel when the Lithuanians found hope in the idea of Americans coming to the rescue. I was hopeful as well. That's the sort of thing we do. But we were fighting a war, and actually buddying up with Stalin at the time. And so the challenges and devastations continued. As I read, I felt embarrassed by my gap of  this piece of history. But reading the "story" made it more than just a data point. Not only did I learn what happened, I empathized for the people. It made me feel somewhat ashamed of my lack of gratitude for the freedom my country grants me.

Between Shades of Gray is a wonderfully written novel about a courageous girl who finds a way to survive through the gravest of circumstances, using memories, art, and fellowship. It's not only a good story, it's important.

Here's a video of why the author decided to write it.