Saturday, July 30, 2011

{Review} Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they've known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin's orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Title: Between Shades of Gray
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Publication: 22nd March 2011
Publisher: Philomel Books
344 pages

My review

I hesitated a lot before reading this book, I was afraid that I would not appreciate the subject, the theme. I've read a lot of books about World War II so I was a bit anxious that this one wouldn't be different and that it would be too repetitive. However, as I loved the cover and as I had always seen positive and eager reviews, I decided to give it a shot. I wish I had read Between Shades of Gray a lot sooner. This book is a fantastic novel, a brilliant book, totally moving and which will haunt you long after you finish it. I really can't praise it enough.

It is true that the subject is not easy at all, it's dark, tragic and horrible at times. And yet I could not put it down. I was totally hooked, spellbound and compelled, I could not stop, I had to continue reading. I don't know how to describe it, it's kind of magical. I started it one afternoon at 4pm and closed it three and a half hours later in tears, but also totally happy with this discovery. Even if the theme is heartbreaking, this novel is totally addictive and I read it in one sitting.

Ruta Sepetys deals with the WW2, but in a way that we are not familiar with. Indeed, when we think about this war we often think about Germany and Jews, even at school we mostly insist on this, but we often forget the countries caught between Germany and Russia. Between Shades of Gray cope with the plight of people in these countries. In this novel, we follow a young fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl, Lina, deported in a remote and icy Siberian village, torn off from her comfortable life and her beloved father. The narration is sometimes interspersed with a few passages about her past and her childhood in a loving family.

To say that I was moved by this book is a really weak word. I do not remember the last time I cried so much while reading a novel. I was shocked to numerous occasions in the beginning, the middle of the book, the two-thirds and finally in the end - in fact all along the book. I do not know if I was very emotional at that time, but I cried at least three times.

Lina is a very strong character, she is courageous, determined and very brave. She is sometimes even a bit too bold. It was really easy for me to relate to all the characters, either the young girl or her family. All the characters are important to the story and they are all so realistic, we get the impression that we know them. The reader can easily see their evolution. The emotions are perfectly described and written and it is very often poignant and heartbreaking. She doesn't spare her characters or her readers.

Ruta Sepetys's writing is totally magical, compelling, moving, vivid and highly poetic. It's beautifully written, brilliant and gripping. She manages to create characters that seem alive, we could imagine them, we get attached to them and inevitably what happens is all the more poignant and tragic. Ruta Sepetys manages to capture the reader's attention and never let it go. I was hooked from the first to the last line. In addition, she gives us a real lesson of courage, humility and hope. Between Shades of Gray reminds us of generosity and dedication, even in the worst situations.

If it is true that the story remains quite fictional, because I think that some events may not have had the same consequences and it would have been much much worse, Ruta Sepetys remains close to the truth and Between Shades of Gray is really accurate. To write this book she used her family's story, she also travelled to Lithuania and collected numerous testimonials. 

To sum up, I highly recommend this novel. It's a very moving book, but it never gets depressing as it's always tinged with hope. I could not praise Between Shades of Gray enough. You have to read it, it reminds us of a dark page of our history, relatively unknown, but that we must never forget. Ruta Sepetys totally shakes me and shocks me - in a good way, but she also reminds me that life is worth it. I absolutely loved this heartbreaking novel and I'm now really looking forward to reading Ruta Sepetys's next books.

I do not usually include citations, but this one totally touched me:
Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother's was worth a pocket watch.

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