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. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives. Between Shades of Gray is a novel that will steal your breath and capture your heart.
Between Shades of Gray is wrought with emotion. How were you able to get through day after day of learning about these horrific things and then to create a story from it? It seems like it would begin to wear on a person a bit. But then I can see how a need to get the story out may take over and make it all possible. Can you share with us how you managed?
Yes, writing certain sections of the novel put me through the wringer emotionally. I constantly questioned how people could be capable of such cruelty. At points, I stepped away from the book to give myself a break or skipped scenes and moved on to work on other sections. Alternating writing hopeful chapters helped balance the horror in the process.
I think as a reader that the balance was quite good. Things would be looking so horrific but the smallest little glimmer of hope or positive thing happening helped balance it. I think I would definitely have a hard time writing it though.
Several sections were challenging, but one in particular was a scene with the mother character, Elena. I don’t want to give anything away, but it was a difficult scene to write and I avoided it for weeks. Instead of working on it I’d think about the scene and how I might feel if I were amidst it observing the situation as Lina.
Between Shades of Gray is really a small part of Lina’s time in the Arctic. Why did you choose to write just that portion? And do you think that we may see more of Lina in the future?
I thought that writing about the beginning of the journey would set the scene and allow readers to perhaps imagine what the rest of her time in the Arctic, and her life, might be like. In terms of writing more about Lina, I’ve had so many lovely requests to somehow continue the story. Maybe somewhere down the road I’ll do that.
I do hope that you continue her story! I would love to see more of Lina’s story.
What is one book you find yourself recommending quite often?
“What I Was” by Meg Rosoff. I loved it!
If you could have one super power what would it be?
The ability to create time to write whenever and wherever I wanted. I’d snap my fingers and say “Five hours of writing time on the beach now!” and I’d be there. Wouldn’t that be dreamy?
That would be nice!
What can we expect to see from you in the future? Anything in the works that your allowed to share?
I’m currently working on another historical fiction novel for my publisher. The new book is set in New Orleans in the 1950’s and I’m having so much fun working on it!
Thank you SO much for your time! I really do appreciate you doing this interview. I think this is a story that’s really important to share and pass on and encourage people to read. An interview will hopefully encourage a bit more interest.
Thank you so much, Candace, for having me here on your blog!
Between Shades of Gray website: http://www.betweenshadesofgray.com/
Video with Ruta about Between Shades of Gray and how it came to be, etc. (Grab kleenex first!)