Sunday, June 12, 2011

comparing two exiles

Finished reading between shades of grey by Ruta Sepetys (Philomel Books). It's a story about the exile of Lithuanians during WWII. Siberia. Long trips in freight trains. Stalin. Sound familiar? I was totally surprised by the number of parallels to The Kulak's Daughter.

Let me list some of these similarities. (SPOILER ALERT!)
1. This story, like mine, is based on family history.
2. Narration is in first person. Sepetys uses a 15/16 year old girl named Lina. I use an 11/12 year old girl named Olga.
3. The pre-existing conditions. Suspicion. Who betrayed them? Why were they chosen for exile?
4. The conditions during the horrible freight train trip. Death of an infant.
5. A rock. Both characters carry around a special rock.
6. Both Lina and Olga are separated from their fathers. Both hope for reunification.
7. Both girls have a younger brother who is important to the story.
8. Both girls witness the death of their mothers under exile conditions.
9. Both girls have the saddest birthdays ever in their remote exile camps.
10. In both books there is a guard who shows limited kindness. (Sepp and Kretzky).
11. Both girls meet a boy at camp who teaches them survivor skills. (Sasha and Andrius)

There's a decade between these two novels. The Kulak's Daughter happens when Stalin's first Five Year Plan is executed - for collectivization. Sepetys' novel, between shades of gray, is set during WWII when Stalin focused on removing the intellectual class from the Baltic countries. So Olga's exile was to destroy an economic class, and Lina's exile had to do with the destruction of a country. However, to have a 1941 character call it genocide (page 182) is incorrect. The word was not coined until 1943.

The guards in my book are called the OGPU, while in Sepetys they have morphed into the NKVD. This changeover would have occurred in 1934. (I did an earlier blog post about the name changes.)

I am thrilled to see a growing body of literature that focuses on Stalin's atrocities. I hope that students will continue to have opportunities to study and discuss world issues. It's only through enlightenment that the darkness goes away. I urge everyone to read this book.