The Ladies Who Drink Read Between Shades of Gray
Before you get too excited, the Ladies Who Drink didn’t read that Shades of Grey. (Actually Edie did, and of it said, “Worst book ever. Even the sexy bits aren’t good.”) No, this time around, we read Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys at our book-cum-social-club. (Also note that the different spellings of “gray” come from the authors/publishers, not your humble writer.)
Even though we were, as usual, a little distracted by friends, food, and drink, it was hard not to find things to say about Between Shades of Gray. The book is about Lina, a fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl, who along with her mother and brother is forced by Soviet soldiers to board a train bound for a Siberian work camp. The first thing almost everyone wondered was how we could have been ignorant of the atrocities described in this book. Tens of millions of people throughout Eastern Europe were killed by Stalin’s policies. The author says that since the Baltic States, including Lithuania, were left under Stalin’s rule until 1990, no one was able to talk about the forced deportations and labor camps. Still, we couldn’t believe this was the first we’d heard about it.
We discussed the author’s writing style and her characterization of Lina. The book described some pretty atrocious acts by the Soviet guards and the terrible effects on the victims of the working and living conditions, and yet the writing was always very factual and almost cold. Was it because the author didn’t want to cheapen the subject matter by overwrought writing? Was it because she wanted us to insert our own emotion? Was it because Lina was supposed to be too strong and stubborn to let the Soviets break her, or too traumatized? We didn’t know, but the effects were varied. Some of us felt it distanced them from the horrible events, while others of us thought it made the events more real and horrifying.
We also talked about whether we would have taken the risk Lina did by using her art to document the horrors the laborers were subjected to. We decided that we probably would not have been so brave, but it was inspiring to imagine that one teenage girl could give voice to so many people. We all liked Between Shades of Gray and agreed that it was an important book.
The Ladies Who Drink always try to pair a cocktail with the book of the month. This time it was Krupnikas, a traditional Lithuanian honey liqueur. Krupnikas was apparently created in 1593 by Benedictine Monks in the abbey of Niaśviž. During the Soviet occupation the production of spirits was shut down, so it seemed a fitting to enjoy it while discussing Between Shades of Gray.