Monday, 2 July 2012

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

I accidentally referred to this as "that brilliant Carnegie short-listed book Fifty Shades of Grey" earlier today.  I was answered by an absolutely appalled look, that the Carnegie shortlist should have sank so low as to include a clumsily written deeply misogynist soft-porn abomination.  It doesn't, of course.  However, the names are confusingly similar.

Admittedly, Between Shades of Gray is less famous than its similarly named counterpart.  But unlike Fifty Shades of Grey, it is subtle, heart-breaking, and the characters are painfully realistically created, and the reader can't help but care very deeply about their precarious fate.

I was discussing this book with a fellow bibliophile earlier, and we both agreed that this book taught us something about a place and time in history about which we knew little.  I should have known rather a lot about it, since I studied Stalin's Russia in A-Level History, and the book follows the fortunes of some Lithuanian inmates in one of the dictator's infamous Gulags.  However, A-Level History was dry, dull and monotonous.  Lists of statistics about the imprisoned and dead are never as moving as personal tales.  This book gave a harrowing glimpse at a part of our shared world history which shames us all. The character of Kreschev is particularly interesting, as he makes us question our own position - what would we have done in his circumstances?  Is there any real way in which we can judge the perceived crimes of ordinary people in times of war?

This book ends with hope, but is deeply upsetting in parts.  Although it is not particularly difficult to read, I would not recommend it for very young readers.  However, for secondary school age children who have read The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and would like to read more, this would be an excellent next step.  A great read for adults too, and unlike Fifty Shades you can read it on public transport without embarrassment.

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