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Between Shades of Gray - Ruta Sepetys (2011)

Between Shades of Gray - Ruta Sepetys"It is estimated that Josef Stalin killed more than twenty million people during his reign of terror. The Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia lost more than a third of their population during the Soviet annihilation."
  -from the author notes/postlogue, Between Shades of Gray

I recently finished listening and reading the book "Between Shades of Gray" by Ruta Sepetys, from which the quote above comes. The book is excellent, riveting and embodies the best of what we call "historical fiction." There is something stunning not just about the terrible raw facts of the Soviet genocide in Lithuania, but about the profound way in which Sepetys weaves this tragic tale. The result is real characters in dramatic distress living on the thinnest margins of hope, connection and humanity.

The book is relatively short, and if you have a commute like me, you can use Amazon's whisper-sync to combo read/listen via Kindle/Audible the entire book in a week or less (took me just under 4 days). Sepetys takes the book seriously, and while it is extremely detailed and well researched, it comes across as very personal. This is confirmed by the added interview with the author on the audible version, where she is overcome with emotion towards the end. Ruta Sepetys and many, many thousands are a generation of people whose parents/grandparents suffered through or perished in the cruelest of conditions by the cruelest of leaders. Lithuanians, Estonians, and Latvians, like the Jews, were systematically collected, condemned and crushed. This book is a testimony to that, if at least in its context.

But hidden within these dark moments, Sepetys captures the essence of what real life author Viktor Frankl spoke of in his iconic book of the Jewish holocaust "Man's Search for Meaning", when he said:

"Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

"Between Shades of Gray" succeeds at being a solid book not just because it is well thought and well researched, but because it tells a story and does it well. Great writing on a level deserving of the most prestigious commendations, and especially the highest award possible- your time. Buy this book. Read or listen to it. You won't regret it.

Amazon book link:

Review by Kim Gentes

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