Sarah Farrant's Reviews > Between Shades of Gray

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
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Feb 04, 12

bookshelves: around-the-world-in-books-challenge, lithuania, kindle, ww2, disturbing
Read from February 02 to 03, 2012

‘I thought of Munch as I sketched, his theory that pain, love, and despair were links in an endless chain’

‘But there wasn’t a pattern. Stalin’s psychology of terror seemed to rely on never knowing what to expect’.

The title is incredibly thoughtful – between shades of gray – which encompasses so much in the novel. Firstly, there is Lina’s artwork, her careful and powerful drawings that encapsulate their experiences during the whole deportation experience. It also refers to the ambiguity of the situation—are the officers working because of their own intentions, or perhaps they are forced to by Stalin? ‘Between shades of gray’ as an expression in the English language means a ‘false dilemma’ or ‘false dichotomy’ when only two conditions are considered. The novel explicitly rejects black and white thinking: good versus evil, freedom versus restriction. Clearly the oppression was awful, inhumane and beggar’s belief, but the characters’ are so effectively nuanced and the story of their continued survival through collective support and ingenuity is breathtaking.

But in my opinion, the most crucial interpretation of ‘between shades of gray’ is the card that the Baltic peoples’ experience has been dealt by history and the collective consciousness. I was startled by how little I knew about the Lithuianian peoples’ plight – as well that of the Finnish, the Latvians, and the Estonians – and I don’t think I am alone here. History’s chronicle of the Jewish Holocaust is full, every child worldwide is made aware of the history and Hitler’s brutal impact. But the victims of Stalin’s regime are often ignored, or at least bundled into statements of tentative magnitude – ’20 million died’ – and then move on. Whilst the experience of the Jews is black and white evil, this tyranny I would argue is a grey area. And as the author ensures the reader understands, that is in part due to the survivors’ reality of continued oppression, muted by a brutal reality and surrounded by societal mistrust as the Soviet regime – and KGB’s reign – carries on until Independence in 1991. It is also due to the Western disregard and Part of the novel’s aim to is give a voice to these oppressed people, overcome their muteness.

I think that this book traumatised me in a way – I don’t think I’ve read a book that’s made me cry in the street just at the thought of the plot. It is uniquely powerful and the message is extremely important. A very special read. Five stars.
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Reading Progress

02/02/2012 page 100
29.0% "Since I can't find any literature in translation and on kindle for Iceland or Finland, I am leaving Scandinavia. Next stop Luthania!"
02/02/2012 page 160
47.0% "Oh dear, I meant Lithuania. Perhaps I should read an atlas or dictionary next..."
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message 1: by Tytti (new)

Tytti Finland fought two wars against the Soviet Union and were never occupied (by either side). "Finns" in Gulag system were mainly Karelians and Ingrians who had lived in Soviet Russia. And of course there have been plenty of books about Stalin's Purges, written by survivors and starting from 1920s. Usually their biggest crime was to speak Finnish.


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