Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they’ve known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin’s orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.
Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously–and at great risk–documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father’s prison camp to let him know they are still alive.
This is the first book I read for my WW II Themed TBR in March.
Ruta Sepetys tells you about what happened to thousands of Lithuanians during World War II, a piece of history that is not very well known. I had no idea that this happened and was in for a shock.
This is a raw story in which the writer doesn’t shy away from horror and madness. By chapter five, I was in tears. They had just dragged a woman, who had given birth minutes before, out of the hospital and threw her and her baby into the waiting truck. I immediately identified with this woman, who’s name was Ona, because I understand how miserable you are when you’ve gone through labor. Being dumped into a cattle-train with seventy other people is not how you want to recuperate.
Needless to say, things don’t end well for Ona.. about fifty pages later, I was in tears again. She had lost her baby and in a wave of grief had thrown herself at a guard. She was shot through the head.
The story actually follows Lina, a very promising artist, and her brother and mother. They are deported and sent to a work-camp. Lina’s only escape from the starvation, assault, sickness and freezing temperatures is drawing. She’s convinced that if she can get these drawings to her father, he will be able to save them.
The characters in this book are amazing. They are all so fleshed out, they each have a story to tell and they all contribute to the events. There is a lot of horror and she still manages to show that not all people are bad or that they aren’t completely bad. There are moments of hope to go with the sadness. The balance is perfect. This woman has great writing skills!
It’s difficult to accept that this was all based on true events. They were forgotten, left behind. I found it very impressing.
There are still so many things I wanted to know, so many questions left unanswered. That’s why I gave it four stars. I wanted, needed more.
Such an amazing book.
I highly recommend it to everyone.
P.S. I read this book in Dutch which made a big difference. But more on that later!
If you want to see all the books I’ve discussed on a map, you can take a look here.