Book Review: Between Shades of Gray

“Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother’s was worth a pocket watch.” 

Tonight I just finished reading the most wonderful, powerful and enlightening story. I had to quickly write down my emotions. I find it ironic that while I’m writing this, I have the movie Schindler’s List turned on in the background.

Between Shades of Gray is a story told through the eyes of 15 year old Lina. In June 1941, the Soviet secret police arrest Lina, her mother and brother. The three are placed on a cattle car along with other deported individuals. Their journey ends with them living in  deplorable, isolated and freezing conditions in Sibera.


Deported Lithuanians

Lina, an artist, decides to document her journey through letters and pictures so that one day someone will find out what happened to them.

Like most people, I’m unaware of this peace of history. We all know about Hitler and how he murdered millions of Jews. Apparently Stalin of Russian made an agreement with Hitler  to take over several states. In 1939, the Soviet Union occupied the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Anyone that was considered anti-Soviet were murdered, sent to prison or deported into slavery. Its estimated that Stalin murdered more than 20 million people during his reign.


This story is about survival.

Truthfully, I don’t know how anyone survived that. The Soviets tried to break the spirits of these people. If they were unable to work, they weren’t given rations of bread to eat. That’s all they were given. No meats, vegetables or even the basic foods. In one scene, a woman actually hid a beet in her panties to give it to the hungry. No one even cared it was hidden there. They were starving. In another scene, people would sneak rotten food out of the garbage. Not caring that it was covered with bugs or maggots, they just brushed them off and quickly at the food.

Other parts of the book that I found to be so humbling is how no matter what happened to these people, they continued to keep their spirits high. They refused to let the Soviets cause any rifts between them. It was important for them not to turn on each other. They wouldn’t give the Soviets the satisfaction.

There was also a love story between Lina and another detainee Andrius. Yes even in horrific times like that, love still has a way of bonding people together.

The whole time I was reading this powerful story, I kept asking myself, “How can people be so cruel?” It hurts me to my heart to know that these people had to endure such atrocities. The Soviet soldiers that were monitoring the camps would shoot people on sight, laugh  when one of them died and purposely refused them food. They lacked compassion. Why? Because some ass named Stalin told them they had to do it.

I’m glad Ruta Sepetys was able to tell this story. I hope its a story that is told everywhere. Its a must read.

Shades of Grey

Great Four


8 thoughts on “Book Review: Between Shades of Gray

  1. World War II was an awful period in human history. It was also unique in the sense that four different dictators wanted to take over the world. There was the German chancellor Adolph Hitler who had it in for the Jews. Benito Mussolini (aka il duce) dictated Italy and formed an alliance with the Nazi regime. There was the emperor of Japan (not a dictator per se but emperor/dictator, no dif). And finally there was of course Stalin. Each one wanted to make the world their own. Crazy, really.

    I read a story similar to this one about a Jewish girl sent to Auschwitz who underwent brutal treatment by the Nazi doctors stationed there. Throughout the entire read I kept asking myself why? Why? Why? Why? How can humans be so cruel to others. I just couldn’t understand it. I had to skip over a lot of the book because the experiments were too heinous to read. In the end, though, she survived and lived to tell her story.

    Thanks for your recommendation of this book. I might just pick up a copy over at Amazon when I get a chance!

    • You are right. That period in history is crazy. I was just telling a friend that we didn’t learn about that stuff in school. We always got the water downed version. I went to Norfolk State University, a Historical Black College and University. It wasn’t until I arrived there that I started to learn more about slavery and my history in general. We get the light version in school. I’m also from Virginia and we are taught so much about Jamestown, Christopher Columbus and the settlers. Until college, I never knew that Columbus was crazy as hell. It makes me want to go out there and learn more. Thanks for reading it Jack.

      • Here’s something I ask people who tell me Christopher Columbus discovered America, “Where did the Indians come from?” I’m usually given a weird stare as if I had broken the bubble they were in. 🙂

      • I’m sure they did stand there looking all stupidfied. LOL. So no, he really didn’t discover America. He just moved into the neighborhood. LOL. Yeah people are sensitive about history and all. Have you seen Django? Spike Lee (who I can’t stand) was upset that Tarantino decided to tell a story about slavery. He was also upset about the n-word. I saw the movie. Truth be told, I’m sure we were called worse names than that back in the day. I swear he thinks he is the only man who can tell “our” history. He’s another one that I think needs to get slapped.

      • I have yet to see Django. Tarantino is one of my favorite directors. I’ve seen all his movies. As you know I finished reading A Time to Kill and the whole book is littered with the n-word. After a while I realized it was in the culture of the town to say that word and not what some townfolks actually felt. I think they didn’t know what else to say as a replacement for the word. Oh, yeah, and I’m not took keen on Spike Lee movies either.

      • You should go see Django. Its definitely over the top. One scene at the end had me laughing so hard. I was WEAK. Of course my humor can sometimes be lewd and crude. Ha!!! So you finished reading A Time to Kill, how did you like it. I would like to hear your thoughts before I give you mine. Well that’s if you want to share your thoughts with me. LOL. Plus you’re not missing anything if you’ve never seen a Spike Lee film. The only one I think that is halfway decent is Malcom X with Denzel Washington. That’s worth a look. Thanks for the conversation. 🙂

      • A Time to Kill…hmm, I found it entertaining. I loved Helen’s sarcasm. I absolutely loved her. Harry Rex? Quite a guy. So many divorces and he’s still practicing law? I think I liked the fact he was Jake’s sounding board. When we wanted to find out more about’s Jake’s inner thoughts, Harry Rex was there. Lucien was an absolute drunk who I wouldn’t trust with a parking ticket. But he knew how to mobilize the masses and that last bit where he sympathized with blacks surprised me. I thought he was like the rest of them.

        Then there was the Klan and Mickey Mouse. The book did a great job explaining how they can get a hold of a community. I was surprised Helen was left unscathed by them without a lashing or an assault. That didn’t make sense to me (beers, guys, a tied up student)–no, didn’t make sense whatsoever.

        Since I’m on the negative I might as well talk about the what bothered me. The wife and kid were non-existent in the story. Sort of afterthoughts. When someone was trying to blow up the house, another person in their right mind would have quit the case. Yet, Jake kept to his guns, endangering his life and the life of the family. I didn’t like that. And when his house blows up, there wasn’t much of a reaction from him. Nothing. It’s like he didn’t care and it made me feel he needed to wake up, “Dude, your house just blew up.” Then again, the other side of the argument is since his house blew up, he had nothing left to lose (his family being somewhere else at the time).

        Then there’s this whole n-word issue throughout the book. Not sure why it was there. I guess to let the reader know a particular community in the U.S. still said it and lived in the backwoods where progress haven’t affected them like everyone else??? Not sure. It was address at the very end though when a juror said it up front that they took offense to the use of the word (sort of reflecting what the reader felt at the time).

        What I really loved about the book is how there was this really nice set up with the minister and with Carl Lee’s family. That was a sweet deal seeing it unfold (whose money was that? Funny! My family didn’t see a penny of it). And I loved the teasing and innuendos going back and forth with Harry Rex and Helen. Sooo good. Oh, and how can I forget how Helen wanted to seduce Jake? He was like, “I’m happily married. I’m the boss, you’re the employee. I’m the lawyer, you’re the clerk–” She interrupts, “You’re the male, I’m the female.” HILARIOUS!

        Anyway, these are some of my thoughts. What did you think?

        BTW, I saw Malcolm X, I thought it was great, too.

      • Wow. My thoughts can’t compare to yours. Maybe you should be writing my blog. LOL. Honestly Jack, I read that book so long ago that I can’t even remember what I liked or didn’t like. I do know this. I really didn’t care for Jake in the book. He was a little too hard. In the movie he came across a little nicer than in the book. Helen was a cool character in the book and on screen. I love a feisty smart chick. That’s why I’m drawn to the Wednesday blog. I’m glad you’re enjoying your Grisham novels. 🙂

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