by Ruta Sepetys
This is a story about a Lithuanian girl named Lina who, in 1941, is arrested by the Russians and sent to a prison camp. This book is journal from the years she spent there, suffering from exposure, starvation, and brutal treatment by the Russian soldiers. While this book is a work of fiction, the author’s parents (or at least one… the back cover is a bit vague…) were Lithuanian refugees, thus leading to the author’s desire to give this often-forgotten story a voice.
THE STORY IS VERY SAD. Sometimes this sounds stupidly obvious, but it’s true. There’s not a lot of happy moments in this book. People die. People wish they were dead because their lives are so horrible. This is a story of injustice, of prejudice, of desperation, of despair. There is not happy ending, just a vague epilogue that implies that Lina and her brother eventually are freed.
For me, all prison camp stories end up being compared to The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom, one of my favorite books of all time. And most fall short because they lack the same sense of hope that ten Boom’s story gives. I think that it is because ten Boom tells her story from a place of faith: even though terrible things happen to her and her family (and when she is rather old, too – at an age where you sit back and assume that your life will continue to be just as adventureless and peaceful as it has been for the last six decades or so), ten Boom has already realized that most valuable of secrets: man can destroy your body, but not your soul. Lina realizes this as well, and is able to find joy and escape in her drawing. However, Lina never takes that next step – in which one must realize that only God can truly protect and keep that soul safe. Thus, where ten Boom’s story is full of the confidence and true joy of someone whose soul is secure, Lina’s tale never loses the desperation of one frantically trying to cling to that soul herself.
Still, it is an excellent read, poignant and thought-provoking, and an excellent reminder of the evils of which man is capable.