Friday, January 11, 2013
Friday Books: Lithuania
This week I read Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. I think this is a Young Adult novel, but it was so great, I don't want to discourage anyone from reading it just because of its classification. Also it has nothing to do with the popular Fifty Shades of Grey! Please don't get them confused. Please do read Between Shades of Gray.
The story is a fictionalized version of what really happened in Lithuania starting in 1939 when the Soviets invaded the Baltic states (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia). The story was lost to history and left untold for many, many years.
Anyone who was deemed an enemy of the Soviet state was deported, most to prisons or to labor camps in Siberia. You can imagine the outcome. The so-called enemies were dangerous thugs such as teachers, librarians, artists, and social workers.
This story is told through the eyes of a 15-year old girl. She and her family end up in Siberia, being treated like criminals and nearly frozen/starved to death.
These events really happened. Even now it is rarely talked about. Sadly, I have a part in this and a confession to make. Years ago I knew a young woman whose parents were from Latvia. She told me about the horrible treatment of Latvians at the time of WWII at the hands of Soviet Communists. Here is the terrible part: I didn't believe her. I had never heard of it... I couldn't believe it was true. She was young; I assumed she was exaggerating or had misunderstood. Years later I knew better, and when I saw her again, I apologized. She was gracious and accepted my apology. It's hard to not still feel bad about my original disbelief, however.
So now you see that I am part of this history, too. When Lithuanians finally returned home, were their neighbors just as skeptical as I was? Did anyone believe their stories? In truth, they probably only rarely talked about their history because they could still get in trouble for discussing it, years after the fact.
We have the opportunity, finally, to learn about this important part of history. We owe it to the annals of history and to the people who suffered to read this book and others like it... and to finally believe their truth!