Sunday, November 25, 2012

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

In 1941 fifteen-year-old Lina is looking forward to a summer at art school and dating boys with her cousin Joana.  But her life is shattered when the Soviet Police burst into her family’s home one June night. Lina, her beautiful mother, her little brother Jonas, and their father, the provost of a university, are sent to a Siberian prison camp as part of Stalin’s ethnic cleansing of the Baltic regions. Lina has to leave in her nightgown with only one suitcase and endure a hellish journey in a cramped train in a car labeled “Thieves and Prostitutes.”

Lina vows to survive and use her art to honor her family and the thousands like them and to document their experiences. She risks her life to send messages to to the camp where her father is held, pictures of hope to let him know they are alive and to help bring them back together.

While they work on a collective farm, sharing a shack with peasants who resent the intrusion, and struggling to survive, Lina looks back on happier times, remembering new dresses and ice cream comes, trips to museums, swimming in the Baltic Sea, and dating cute boys with her cousin. And later they are sent to the Arctic to build a fish factory and bakery, where only the guards are allowed decent shelter, the prisoners must see to their own with whatever scraps they can find’ they are forbidden to use any of the bricks intended for the factory.

This is a heartbreaking and powerful story of human cruelty and degradation, and humiliation, love and loss, and the struggle for personal dignity and survival.

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