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Birmingham Bar Association Summer 2016

BOOK REVIEWS Book Reviews Robert R. Kracke “Between Shades of Gray” One girl’s voice breaks the silence of history. By Ruta Sepetys | Speak, The Penguin Group, New York, NY 2011, 375 pages Do not confuse this book with the romance novel series “Fifty Shades of Grey”. This book is a tragedy about a subject with which few Americans are knowledgeable. “...Joseph Stalin killed more than 20 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.... To this day, many Russians deny they ever deported a single person.” (Author’s note at the end of the book). If this book could be compared to a non-fiction work (this is, however, a historical novel,) The Diary of Anne Frank would be close, except the protagonist of this novel is not Jewish. The author describes the theme of the book best in an end of book interview with her: “This book is about Lina, a 15 year-old-girl who is deported from Lithuania to Siberia in 1941. The story chronicles not only Lina’s fight for survival but also her struggle to maintain faith in mankind in the midst of Stalin’s terror. It explores the miracle that is hope and courage and also the miraculous power of the human spirit.” The interview goes on to state that the author’s grandfather was an officer in the Lithuanian army and when she traveled back to Lithuania to research the background for this book, she met many of her relatives who had been reluctant to discuss the horrible subject matter of the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Baltic citizens inasmuch as the relatives did not obtain independence until 1991, over 50 years after the atrocities took place from 1939 to 1991. The atrocities set out in this novel are a revelation to American readers because of the short period of time that citizens of the independent states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have felt less threatened to discuss what took place beginning in about 1939 after Stalin and Hitler came to a so-called alliance/ agreement over the occupation of Poland. The Germans came from the west and the Soviets from the east, and the Soviets arrested and deported all in their path. Lina’s father’s “crime” is being a college professor. Some of the characters in the novel naively believe the Nazis are their friends and that liberation lies to the west toward Germany. One of the more interesting aspects of this novel is that the protagonist, Lina, is an accomplished artist who worships the work of Edvard Munch, a Norwegian painter best known for his three paintings of, “The Scream”. Several times in the novel Lina discusses Munch’s art as follows, “I knew my parents wouldn’t appreciate Munch or his style. Some called it ‘degenerate art,’ The Nazi description but as soon as I saw photos of Anxiety, Despair, and The Scream, I had to see more. His works wrenched and distorted, as if painted through neurosis. I was fascinated.” Of course, Lina is describing what her life metaphorically was like through “The Scream” in that its subject appears to be on a bridge with the face of a skeleton and with the subject’s mouth open wide. Munch’s art does describe what Lina went through during her trip from Lithuania to Siberia during which she learned of her father’s imprisonment and the fate of her mother and brother who are with her. It does have moments of adolescent romance which is somewhat surprising considering the treatment these prisoners received. This reviewer came to better appreciate the word “gulag” upon the reading of this fine work. This novel has received so many awards that one needs to be mentioned, the New York Times: “SUPERLATIVE, a hefty emotional punch.” Virtually every literary review in America hails this work as “heart wr enching”...”suspenseful”...“beautifully written” and “deeply felt.” This book will give the reader an education concerning a sensitive subject about which most has been kept quiet until the aftermath of glasnost. The most appropriate way to end this review would be to quote Edvard Munch with his most famous poetic utterance, “From my rotting body, flowers shall grow, and I am in them, and that is eternity.” Available in paperback at $8.99. 28 Birmingham Bar Association


Birmingham Bar Association Summer 2016
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