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.
Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously--and at great risk--documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father's prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives. Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart.
'Superlative. A hefty emotional punch.' The New York Times praised.
Not really. For me.
When characters die or leave, I did feel for them, but they were as much as I'd feel for a boy coming down with pneumonia. I didn't exactly feel loss or anger or anything. Even for the Soviets which were supposed to be the bad guys here. They treated Lithuanians like trash but... I just didn't feel. I'm not cold or heartless or unsympathetic, I told you I did feel, but it wasn't much. I can't figure out why but it just was.
There's this thing, something pretty small, something in the passing but I just can't get this out of my head. There is a bald man in this story and he has pretty much survived the whole trip with Lina and I noticed, Lina always refer him as 'The bald man'. I'm very sure, that man has a name. The name has been mentioned several times. So why refer him as 'the bald man'? And there was a woman who was referred as 'the grumpy woman'. She wasn't a character that was something in the passing, I'd have accepted that but calling her 'the grumpy woman' for quite a period in the book? Not quite. Please, Lina, learn their names.
The biggest killer in the book was the ending. It was very very incomplete and was utter dissatisfaction for me. There were many questions unanswered and the trip back to Lithuania wasn't there. The last chapter and the Epilogue had a humongous time gap between them and what happened was unclear. How did they manage to leave Siberia? How did Lina and Andrius manage to reunite? Jonas? Was Lina's father alive or dead? And Nikolai Kretzsky? I really, really wanted to find out what happened to him. It was mentioned in the book that he was gone. And then it felt like the author didn't bother to go into detail anymore. Gone was gone. And I liked Kretzsky!
These are some questions that had me pondering. Perhaps it is deliberately left like that as some kind of open ending but honestly, it just felt like a really frustrating ending that wasn't fit to be called an ending. What happens after Lina and Andrius met? Maybe the author could have added a short chapter about it here and then so it wouldn't feel like a puzzle with missing pieces but no. The ending went Jonas slowly began to heal and Lina thinking maybe the Evenks would help them and that she had a recurring dream where she sees a male figure coming toward her in the camp and she always wakes up before she could see his face but once thought heard Papa's voice. And then suddenly, it goes
I closed my eyes. I felt Andrius moving close. "I'll see you," he said.
"Yes, I will see you," I whispered. "I will."
I reached into the pocket and squeezed the stone.
Whoa whoa whoa, hold yer horses. What does that mean? Why is Andrius suddenly just mentioned? And that happened when they were still at Trofimovsk! At the camp! And it just ended! So I was pretty much fuming by then.
Other the problems I've mentioned, this book is quite wonderful and I can tell that Ruta put in immense amount of time and dedication to research for this book. The writing was simple enough without being boring and realistic.