Friday, 29 April 2011

Between the Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Title: Between Shades of Gray
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Publisher: Spine Breakers/Puffin
Published: April 2011
ISBN: 9780 141335889

Author's website:

Rating: 5/5 with merits!

The cover on this is simple and gentle on the eyes, with the contrast of having barbed wire around the edges and the sprouting seedling.

This is the first book based around the Soviet genocide that I've read.  Based on true stories given by survivors, it offers a compelling read.  In many places I found it hard to see how people survived given the conditions and deprivation they were made to live in.  Between Shades of Gray shows how groups of strangers, pushed together by communism, make the best they can in very extreme situations - finding hope against the odds.  It's heartbreaking and sad in places, terror filled in others, with tragic descriptions of how prisoners were treated.  Young or old, all were treated with complete disregard and contempt.

For me, I was torn between wanting to scream at the soldiers for their foul abuse over those they ripped from their homes and placed in inhumane conditions and drawn to find the positive experiences, the lifelong friendships made and their common struggle to survive. Each had an urgent need to survive, no matter what the personal cost.  They were living in their own personal hell, unable to take control of their own lives because of the brutality and situation they were forced into.

A poignant quote from Between the Shades of Gray:
"There were only two possible outcomes in Siberia.  Success meant survival. Failure meant death.  I wanted life.  I wanted to survive."

Between the Shades of Gray flows really well.  As a reader I couldn't put it down, even though I was repulsed by the stark treatment of the prisoners.  Deportation into a remote and uncaring wilderness went hand in hand with deprivation and treachery, with each person dealing with this in their own way.  It comes across as a complete story, rather than individual accounts, which makes it very readable.  If you only read one book on the Soviet genocide, then this is the one.  There is a full discussion guide on the author's website, so this would be a fantastic book for a reading group.

Book synopsis:
"Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth?  That morning, my brother's was worth a pocket watch."
"In 1941, fifteen-year-old Lina is preparing for art school, first dates, and all that summer has to offer. But one night, the Soviet secret police barge violently into her home, deporting her along with her mother and younger brother. They are being sent to Siberia. Lina's father has been separated from the family and sentenced to death in a prison camp. All is lost.
Lina fights for her life, fearless, vowing that if she survives she will honor her family, and the thousands like hers, by documenting their experience in her art and writing. She risks everything to use her art as messages, hoping they 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, and it is only their incredible strength, love, and hope that pull Lina and her family through each day. But will love be enough to keep them alive?
Between Shades of Gray is a riveting novel that steals your breath, captures your heart, and reveals the miraculous nature of the human spirit."

Ruta Sepetys discusses her upcoming novel, Between Shades of Gray from Penguin Young Readers Group on Vimeo.

Source: Many thanks to Puffin for inviting me to the Blogger event earlier this year, I received this ARC to review then.