This book details the harrowing journey of deportees from the Baltic States during Stalin’s reign of terror in 1941. Beginning with the removal of the family from their home, tracking their journey from Kaunas, Lithuania, to the harsh landscapes of the Arctic-Circle they are left to perish from disease, frostbite and hunger by their merciless NKVD guards. The book centres on this particular family’s effort to survive, when all is lost. However linear and predictable this book could have been,apparently every effort is made to avoid this. Relationships between the oppressed and oppressors form then are shattered. Characters die with relentless regularity; the reader is never spared an inch of the devastating truth. No expense was spared in the research of this book, from the locking up of the author in an abandoned prison, to tirelessly tracking down relatives and friends of those who experienced the protagonist’s ordeal. This encourages a chillingly realistic edge, the writing style leaving the reader with merely a bleak picture of what is happening, leading to a situation that encourages empathy, for both sides of the futile struggle. For all its strengths Between Shades of Grey does have its weaknesses. The development of many of the characters’ backgrounds is left un-touched; writing style or not, this left me with a feeling that the family accounts on which it had been based had not received much thought about the way characters would actually interact with each other.  This makes for some un-convincing decisions by the characters, damaging the immersive feel the novel provides the reader with. These criticisms are relatively minor compared to the overwhelming emotional scale of the novel, it is not a read that will leave anyone unaffected.

****

Louis Smith Landor

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