Saturday, November 5, 2011
Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys Review
I will say this now: I feel uncomfortable with the constant comparisons between the Russian Communists and Hitler's Regime and the Holocaust. I am writing a Holocaust novel about the Nazi persecution of homosexuals which may or may not have some Russian soldiers in it and what they did to the "liberated" men with the pink triangles. Though they took place in the same time period, I feel those are two mainly different topic. Stalin persecuted people before Hitler did, when Hitler did, and after Hitler did. And I feel the whole "so many people know about Hitler but so little people know about Stalin" thing is also wrong. Both were horrible and both need to be learned about. The whole point of this book and books such as The Devil's Arithmetic (both of which are very different) have the same meaning: Remember. Why do we still learn about the Salem witch trials (also very different)? Because we want to remember what horrible things happened to these people and try to not repeat it. Both need to be remembered and both are very important. I've met an Auschwitz survivor and he's greatly concerned about what's happening in our world today, even our country (to my international readers: I live in the U.S.A.). He was concerned about the recent suicides of bullied youth. I don't believe we should do the big "oh everyone knows about this horrible thing but not this horrible thing". That's like saying it's not a horrible thing. I've said it, so I'm back to this novel.
Lina is a fifteen year old girl living in Lithuania in 1941. She's a talented artist and would have soon been heading to an art school. One night, close to it, she and what remains of her family (her father has already been taken) are taken by the Communist soldiers that had moved into her country. She and her family were on the list of those deemed as being a threat to the Communists. She's put in a truck with these other "anti-Communists" and she begins a journey taking her from her home, to a labor camp in Russia where she's forced to pick beets.
The characters were usually never flat. They all had some personality and were all memorable. These were human characters doing what people like us would do in this kind of situation. Some would give up and some would fight. Some would give in more quickly than others. And some would try to tell someone in ways that usually never seemed like how we'd get out messages. What happened to these characters and what they felt also were realistic. When Lina saw her father for the last time she acted like we all most likely would: She was heartbroken. Her mother was also extremely realistic when she tried to fight to keep her children alive. It was also accurately portrayed about what happened to people under these conditions such as how Lina hadn't gotten her period in months (she wasn't pregnant).
From what I know about Stalin's labor camps and his reigns, it's all accurate. Women and children were sent to labor farms and men (although some old men) to prisons. Knowing someone's death if you weren't with them was also hard to truly figure out because it could come from a rumor. The labor camps were harsh and the people there acted like people there. Even Lithuania was portrayed as it actually was.
Reading this story was at times very hard for me. It was a painful story and I wasn't sure of whether or not Lina would survive (despite what the description says). What she did to get the message to her father was very serious when it came to her being sure he'd get it. I wondered why she wanted to survive so much. Looking back years later as a survivor of this must be extremely painful. Imagine surviving this and than having the Soviets force you to not speak about what happened is awful.
But there is hope.
Some Soviets did help those in the labor camps.
Some people did survive.
We have the art of what was left behind by those in the camps.
The Soviet Union has been destroyed.
Survivors may now speak up.
In between light and black there are shades of grey. Love, hope, and the wonders of humanity will shine through those shades.
And I won't be able to forget what happened. I'll do what this book wanted me to do: Remember.