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Having just finished this most amazing, compelling book, I was telling a friend about how much I enjoyed it. "Oh yeah!" she said, "everyone's been talking about it. It's basically just sex, right?" I sighed. No, this is not THAT book, despite it's pretty similar title. This one came out last year and I could only wish it would get so much attention. I was somewhat appalled to see that it had so far received no reviews on here, while its counterpart had masses of them, so let me introduce you to something I feel is actually worth reading!
I'll start with a disclaimer: Between Shades of Grey is a very depressing book. Very. But if you stick with it the ending is well worth it.
The story's narrator, 15-year-old Lina, is a Lithuanian girl who, along with her mother and younger brother Jonas are being sent away in a cattle car by the NKVD. They do not know where they are going, or why they have been put on Stalin's list. Their father, Kostas, has been separated from them and is on board a different train.
Lina, a promising artist, sneaks out of the train car before departure and finds her father, promising she will somehow send him secret messages by way of her artwork, which he is sure to recognise.
We follow Lina's family throughout the next couple of years, and the hard times they endure, unraveling bits of their past and learning about the other residents of the train car. Although times are tough and conditions brutal, with them starving, becoming ill due to malnutrition and working until their fingers bleed, the group never lose hope and never lose their sense of humour.
This is what kept me reading. Although times were so desperate for the family and those around them, and in my mind all the time I knew these things really happened to others, scenes such as them celebrating a makeshift Christmas or birthday were so heartwarming, and made me root for the characters all the more.
It's been a long time since I've devoured a book as quickly as this one. I love how it was written from the point of view of a young girl, as so much of the book was about uncertainty - where they were going, if their father was alive etc - and this confounded it all the more. It reminded me a lot of Markus Zusak's "The Book Thief" which is another of my favourites, with Lina mirroring Liesl at times. The language is as simple and sparse as the landscape of Siberia, where they end up, and it can almost be read as a young adult novel, despite the bleak themes. I find books like this, such as The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, which describes the war from a child's point of view, much more impactful.
The ending of the book made me cry, which I don't believe has ever happened, and it was perfect, especially the epilogue.
I was most interested to read the author's note, where she explains her family ties to very similar events, and how she had researched by travelling to Lithuania and speaking to survivors and their families. What's even MORE interesting is that, although this is a work of fiction, one of the characters, who ultimately brings the story to a close, is completely real!
If you're at all interested in fiction set in war times, especially if you'd be interested to learn about a country such as Lithuania which doesn't get a lot of attention with regard to this era, I'd HIGHLY recommend this book. Heck, I'd recommend it even if you aren't!