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.
The Soviet Union occupied Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, known as the Baltic states, in 1939. The Kremlin drafted hundreds of people and deemed them anti-Soviet. They eventually would end up either murdered, sent to prison, or sent to labour camps being forced to dig for beets and potatoes under Josef Stalin’s orders.
The first deportation happened on June 14, 1941 when 15-year-old Lina and her family were taken. She and her family were not as lucky to escape Lithuania like her cousin, Joana and her family. They had escaped through Germany to refugee camps.
Those who survived spent 10 to 15 years in Siberia under below zero temperatures in nothing but poorly constructed jurtas. There was really no heat and after working long days, each person was only given 300 grams of bread rations per day. Hardly a sustaining meal for people doing hard labour in severe conditions.
Although this book is fiction, it was based on “true” events that were well researched through documentation that was found buried in the ground by people who were there, and from people brave enough to speak out. The book is written like a memoir.
In Lithuania on June 14, 1941, Lina Vilkas put on her nightgown and sat at her desk to pen a letter to her cousin, Joana. Suddenly there was such a loud banging on the front door that Lina jumped out of her chair. When her mother opened the door it was the NKVD, otherwise known as the Soviet Secret Police. Three of them came in holding the passports of their mother, Elena; their father, Kostas; her 11-year-old brother, Jonas; and Lina’s.
They were transported in a truck along with other people and deposited at a train station. It was complete and utter chaos as families were being separated. Children screamed and mothers pleaded for their offspring. Everyone was herded onto cattle cars - the stench of body odour was overpowering. There wasn’t any room to move and the NKVD kept piling more and more people onto each car. Lina counted 46 people in their car which she called the “prison box.” Eventually these poor people ended up in Siberia in the fight of their lives. The treatment was cruel and vicious!
This beautifully written, sad story is a dark reminder from the past. The hard thing about reading the book beside the fact the story is based on truth is understanding that these horrible things did actually happen to these people. I thank those brave enough to bring stories like this into the open. As kind, compassionate, decent, and caring people, we must NEVER, EVER allow anything like this to happen again.
You will not be able to put this book down. Although hard to read, believe me, you’ll be so absorbed that you’ll want to keep reading. Be sure to read the “Author’s Note” and the end of the book for important information. Be sure to have kleenex standing by for this book! Absolutely excellent.