Read Around the World: Lithuania
Ruta Sepetys is a Lithuanian-American author whose father was an emigrant during Stalin’s occupation of the Baltic States. Other members of her family were even deported to Siberia from their Lithuanian home, inspiring her to write “Between Shades of Gray”.
This book is emotionally intense. It focuses on one family during World War II when Stalin was deporting citizens of the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) and moving them to labor camps. The mass deportation was cruel and unsanitary, forcing people into train cars past capacity, denying them food, water, and hygienic necessities. Many people died before even reaching labor camps and “settlements”.
In high school, despite taking 3 or 4 required history courses, I don’t think we ever really talked about Stalin or the atrocities he committed during WWII. Almost all lessons on WWII focused on Hitler, the Holocaust, and America’s role in the war. I suspect schools leave Stalin out of the equation as America had allied with Russia to defeat German; allying with one villain to defeat another. It doesn’t paint America in the best light and was more or less skipped over in my classes. This novel was one of my first real looks at Stalin, his reign in Russia, and the many terrible things he did. Reading this novel inspired me to read more about Stalin and Russia during WWII and helped me fully understand just how skewed the history they taught us in high school was.
I can’t say this book was “fun” to read because reading about horrible things people do to other people isn’t really a joyous activity, but I learned a lot, the book inspired me to seek out more information, and it really resonated with me emotionally. I think that qualifies this as a successful novel.