Sometimes I get kidded about reading more than one book at the time, but I’ve always liked to mix it up a little. I just finished reading Ruth Sepetys’ Between Shades of Gray and am still reading and pondering Seven Thousand Ways to Listen by Mark Nepo. Over the weekend, I started reading Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project and am enjoying it.
While some people might find it hard to be sympathetic with Rubin’s project when they learn that she’s wealthy, well-loved, and super smart, I’m impressed with her frequent references to psychologists, philosophers, and spiritual leaders. Not only does she mention these men (so far, I haven’t encountered any women) and their theories, but she also explains them in such a way that even a layperson can understand. Rubin then takes the theory a step further and applies it to her life.
At some point in the not too far distant future, I’ll finish the above nonfiction works and review them in a more complete way. In the meantime, here’s a review of Between Shades of Gray, a fictional account based on some horrific events that took place in the years during and after WWII.
“They Took Me in My Nightgown” is the name of the first chapter of this riveting novel. Although it’s YA novel, Between Shades of Gray grabbed my attention in the first paragraph and held it all the way through the epilogue. Who knew such horror existed? Although I am well aware of Hitler’s murder of six and one half million Jews and other “undesirables,” only one person in our book club knew of the cruel genocide of the people of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia that was going on at the same time. Stalin was responsible for 20 million deaths! It boggles the mind.
Based on the events in the lives of Lithuanians taken from their homes by Russians in 1941, the book focuses on a 15-year-old named Lina and her family.Transported by overcrowded (understatement) and unsanitary trucks and trains to Siberia to work and die, the Lithuanians suffered and lived in exile for years. The NKVD treated them inhumanely, and many died of scurvy, frostbite, exposure, dysentery, and starvation. Others were shot. And then there were lice…even in their eyebrows.
It was a “hard” book to read, not because of the reading level but because of the subject matter and the way the author presented it. Told through the eyes of a teenager, the events of the multiple hardships and deprivations were especially painful to read. Throughout the novel, Lina has flashbacks of earlier, happier days. When juxtaposed with the horrid conditions in Siberia, this device is particularly useful.
If Robert Frost’s comment, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader” is true, then Ruth Sepetys must have been emotionally drained when she completed this book. There were scenes that were so unsettling that after reading them, I’d have to put the novel away for the night. Although I’d be reluctant to begin reading again the next day, I’d have to. It was painful to read of the horrific events and yet impossible not to read of them.
If you want to read something that will pierce your heart, soul, and mind, then read this book. Not only will you develop more compassion for your fellowmen and women, but you’ll also learn something. I didn’t even know where the Baltic Sea was before reading this, much less that about the people who inhabited the small countries around it.