Between Shades of Gray (Goodreads | Amazon) is a rare book. It's a historical novel about Lithuanians deported to work camps during World War II. The story follows Lina, a teenage artist from an educated, intelligent family, who are dragged out of their homes in the middle of the night. It's the story of fear and evil in a world gone awry. But it's also a story of hope found where you least expect it.
The book starts when Lina, her brother and her mother are dragged from their homes in the middle of the night. Lina is so sheltered and confused that she doesn't know what to pack or understand where they are going. When they are taken to the train station she still doesn't understand. Not even when they are packed onto livestock trains does she get it. That's because Lina is a child facing an evil unimaginable. Her lack of comprehension emphasizes how terrible it was that the Soviets (as well as the Germans) deported and criminalized children for no real reason.
For once, in a WWII novel the Nazi's are not the bad guys but instead this book focuses on evils perpetuated by Soviets and the characters see potential German invasion as a chance for rescue. For Lina, the world is not filled with a lot of good people, but varying degrees of darkness. The reader gets to see Lina go from this wide-eyed innocent artist, to a girl able to survive and stand up for herself.
The best thing this novel does is show the "shades of gray" of humanity. It does not paint all the Russians as evil and all the Lithuanians as good. Instead within the Russians there are those who struggle and within the Lithuanians there are those who spy for the Russians, but the book emphasizes that we have no right to judge either party because we're not in their shoes.
This is a beautifully written novel that deals with the complexity of people, rarely all good or all bad but generally somewhere in between. It's a very sad story, but a story still filled with hope. It's absolutely worth reading. The biggest problem with this book is that it ends abruptly then is capped off with an epilogue. I'm just not sure how I feel about the ending/epilogue, it left me with questions and what felt like holes in the story. Otherwise this book is near-perfection.