Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

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Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: This novel is based on real-life accounts. It's 1941 and Lithuanian citizens are being evicted from their homeland and forced to make a gruelling journey - but how many are strong enough to survive?
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: April 2011
Publisher: Penguin
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0141335889

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The central character, a teenage girl called Lina: her younger brother and mother are being forced from their home. All is confusion, suspicion and fear but they obey orders anyway. To disobey would be to lose their lives. Torture or murder - or both. Unthinkable. The small family unit of three mix with many other families caught up in this situation. They collect in the streets and are rounded up - like sheep. It will be some time before any of them feel remotely like human beings. Their names are on some sort of 'list'. Even a young mother who has just given birth, is manhandled on to the waiting transport.

Right from the beginning of this novel, the personal traits of Lina and her family are in evidence. The mother is strong and dignified; the brother sweet and innocent and Lina comes across as a resourceful and intelligent young girl. She's also brave. She's had to grow up quickly and at times she's almost the mother in various situations that they find themselves caught up in. Cleverly Sepetys gives us some background detail - when life was sweet and safe. This particular family lived a comfortable, middle-class life. The father is - was, an academic at a local institution. But where is he now? Why is he not here to look and protect his family? Sepetys tells us in her own good time. She also spares us no detail. We get up close and personal on this horrific journey. Imagine many individuals - men, women and children, all squashed together for days, weeks on end. No toilet or washing facilities. Barely any fresh air. And food barely fit for animals. The cruelty of the guards is constant. These conditions start to take their toll ...

The writing style of the novel is smooth and fluid. It's almost as if the reader is eavesdropping on these terrible events. A couple of maps are provided right at the beginning, to give the reader a sense of scale and also a sense of time. And although war is raging over Europe, these poor people are caught up in their own private hell. Many wonder if the authorities will come and rescue them. They've committed no crimes, after all. And on top of everything else they must endure on a daily basis, the sense of injustice is palpable. It's enough to drive anyone mad.

At the crux of this story is the push for survival. It's also about tiny acts of human kindness. About the strong looking after the weak. Lots of emotions bubble to the surface but they're not all good, even with the transported Lithuanian people. I cannot over-emphasise that the characters in these pages endure the most unimaginable conditions. We're told this in unflinching language by Sepetys. It's heart-breaking. And more than once I found myself thinking that they'd be better off dead. No more suffering. In fact, there's one character who wails and bemoans the fact that it seems to take him an age to die. He wants to die. Others are dying easily so why can't he. Strong and emotive stuff.

The subject matter is gripping and attention-grabbing in itself. And I did have a lump in my throat (not when I was reading the book itself) but when I read the author's note right at the end. While the novel itself is good (and thought-provoking) I didn't come away with the impression that it was blow-me-away-with-a-feather, great, I'm afraid.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals then you might enjoy The Dogs and the Wolves by Irene Nemirovsky.

Buy Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys at Amazon.com.


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