BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY, by Ruta Sepetys
Notas de leitura:
Este livro é algo estranho porque, sendo embora destinado a adolescentes (jovens adultos, dizem os Americanos), descreve cenas horríveis, que, à primeira vista, só deveriam ser lidas por adultos.
Protagonistas são uma mãe e dois filhos (uma menina de 15 anos e um rapaz de 10), da Lituânia, condenados pelos Russos a trabalhos forçados na Sibéria, em 1941, aquando da invasão do País. O livro descreve apenas os primeiros dois anos até à morte da mãe, mas, no final, é-nos dito que ficaram lá 12 anos até 1953. Os tormentos dos Lituanos, como o dos Estónios e Letónios só acabaram em 1991, quando terminou o domínio soviético sobre os Países Bálticos.
Depois da leitura, percebe-se a opção de escrever para adolescentes e não para adultos. A linguagem não é literária. É muito simples e directa, sem palavras difíceis, como se a fome, o frio, as torturas e o sofrimento em geral fossem uma coisa natural. Uma escrita literária tornaria a leitura desagradável e extremamente penosa.
Uma característica interessante deste livro é que o ritmo da narrativa nunca abranda, pelo contrário: começa por ser relativamente lento e vai acelerando cada vez mais, aumentando o interesse do leitor. Quando cheguei a metade, não mais o larguei até ao fim.
Foi publicado no Brasil com o título "A vida em tons de cinza".
Adenda - 21-10-2011 - Foi publicado em Portugal com o título sensaborão "O Longo Inverno", na Contraponto.
March 19, 2011
Between Shades of Gray
By Ruta Sepetys
Philomel, 344 pages
There's no shortage of books for young readers about Nazism and the Holocaust—and that's as it should be. Children, at a certain age, ought to begin learning about the ghastly events that unfolded in Europe during World War II. For memoirists and novelists, the era continues to provide limitless terrain for imaginative exploration.
It's odd, then, that so few books have dealt with contemporaneous events a little farther east, where Nazism ended and Soviet communism began. The horrors visited on the captive peoples of the Soviet Union—mass deportations, enslave ment in camps, the erasure of entire nations—would seem as rich a source for stories of suffering and triumph and political lesson-teaching. Yet what happened behind the Iron Curtain has gone largely unremarked in the pages of children's literature.
Until recently, virtually the only accounts for English-speaking children were Anne Holm's 1965 novel, "North to Freedom" (also published under the title "I Am David"), about a Bulgarian boy who escapes from a Soviet concentration camp, and Esther Hautzig's slim but excellent memoir of her Polish family's exile to Siberia, "The Endless Steppe," which was first printed in 1970.
But perhaps now the subject is beginning to get its due. The past few years have seen the arrival of several books for young readers depicting harsh communist realities. These include "The Wall," Peter Sis's 2007 picture-book memoir of his youth in Cold War Prague; Anne Fine's 2008 young-adult novel, "The Road of Bones," set in a vaguely Stalinist era; and Haya Leah Molnar's 2010 chronicle of her girlhood in communist Romania, "Under a Red Sky."
Now comes Ruta Sepetys's "Between Shades of Gray," a superb though grueling novel for readers over the age of 13. We see events through the eyes of Lina, an artistic 15-year-old Lithuanian girl whose promising future is violently altered when she and her family are rounded up and deported. It is 1941, and Stalin has ordered a purge of all suspected "anti-Soviet" elements—doctors, lawyers, artists, businessmen, professors—from the annexed Baltic states.
As in Esther Hautzig's firsthand account of deportation to Siberia, this fictional one begins in an elegant home with the sound of hammering on the door. Soviet police barge in, barking orders for Lina's family to pack up and leave. Hustled with her mother and brother and anguished neighbors into the back of a truck, Lina is frantic with worry about her father, who disappeared earlier. The truck unloads the terrified party into the confusion of a railway depot, where Russian guards indifferently separate families and abuse anyone who resists them. Shoved into dirty cattle cars, the Lithuanians soon find themselves trundling toward the labor camps of Siberia. "I pictured a rug being lifted," Lina tells us, "and a huge Soviet broom sweeping us under it."
Ms. Sepetys's prose is wonderfully uncluttered and sometimes beautiful, but she does not flinch from depicting Soviet cruelties, and that makes some passages rather harrowing. Parents of younger children may want to consider introducing "The Endless Steppe" first, for readers around age 11, and then move to "Between Shades of Gray" a few years later.
In an afterword, Ms. Sepetys reminds us that Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia vanished from world maps until the Soviet Union disintegrated, not regaining their independence until 1991. As the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee, she declares a particular interest in conserving memories of the hard communist years. She based many events in the novel on what she learned from her interviews with survivors and their families.
"Between Shades of Gray" and the other books in this tiny but perhaps widening historical niche are worth a young reader's time not just because they move or uplift (which they do). These volumes also give children the opportunity to develop as clear and educated an opinion about communism as they will have already formed about Nazism. And that's something worth having.
March 25, 2011
It sounds like the unlikeliest of blockbusters: a debut novel from an author with a hard-to-pronounce name that tells the story of Lithuanians forced into Stalinist work camps during and after World War II. Aimed at kids—12 and older.
But Penguin's young adult imprint is betting that "Between Shades of Gray," by Ruta Sepetys (suh-PET-tees) will stand out in a young-adult landscape littered with vampires and dystopian romances.
Early hype suggests the novel may resonate equally with adults and teens. The book has already sold in 23 countries, and 16 of the foreign publishers will release it as an adult novel. In Britain, Penguin U.K. will publish two versions—adult and "YA"—with separate covers and marketing campaigns. In the U.S., Penguin is featuring the book in both its adult and young adult catalogs, and has been promoting it with adult book clubs.
"Between Shades of Gray" is narrated by Lina, a 15-year-old aspiring artist, in stark, unsparing prose. The tale is at once a suspenseful, drama-packed survival story, a romance and an intricately researched work of historical fiction. It opens in 1941 as Soviet secret police arrive at Lina's home and force her family onto trains with thousands of other Lithuanians who are targeted as dissidents and shipped to work camps. Lina, unaware of the deprivation ahead, grabs ribbons and a hair brush but leaves behind a loaf of bread. Separated from her father, Lina and her mother and brother are sent to a collective beet farm where they are given tiny rations of bread, then moved to a camp in Siberia, where dozens of prisoners freeze and starve to death.
Ms. Sepetys, a Michigan native who lives in Nashville, speaks with a cheery, Midwestern twang when describing her Lithuanian roots. Her father's family fled that country during the Russian occupation.
In 2003, Ms. Sepetys was running her artistic management firm and "bailing rock stars out of jail" when she decided to write a YA novel. Touring with musicians, among them guitarist Steve Vai, left little time to write, so she spoke her novel into a voice recorder while driving.
During two research trips to Lithuania, Ms. Sepetys interviewed some 25 survivors, family members, historians and politicians about Soviet occupation, when thousands of Lithuanians were deported to Siberian gulags.
She spent 20 hours in a historical immersion program at a former Soviet prison in Latvia, which she now calls "one of the stupidest decisions I've ever made." She and the other "inmates" were deprived of food and water, interrogated and roughed up. She ruptured a spinal disk when a re-enactor stood on her back while she did push-ups, and encountered huge rats and human feces around the prison, though she is quick to note that her suffering was minor compared with that of actual prisoners.
Many of the anecdotes and details in the book come from interviews with survivors, Ms. Sepetys says. One woman told her she learned to speak Russian by reading a Russian translation of Charles Dickens' "Dombey and Son," as the book's protagonist does. Another said the last time she saw her father was in the train yard, where he handed her his wedding ring and a piece of ham through a train's bathroom hole—a scene enacted in the book.
The first draft was unbearably dark. "I killed practically everyone," Ms. Sepetys said. She went through eight revisions with her agent before they shopped it. Tamra Tuller, Ms. Sepetys' editor at Philomel, Penguin's young adult imprint, suggested bringing some characters back to life and leaving the fate of others open- ended to inject more hope into the narrative.
Ms. Tuller says she hopes a real-life tragedy will stand apart from the crush of futuristic science fiction flooding the market. "It feels really good that in this day and age of dystopian fantasy, people can connect with a real-life story," she says.
April 8, 2011
BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY
By Ruta Sepetys
344 pp. Philomel Books. (Young adult; ages 12 and up)
“They took me in my nightgown.” The opening sentence of this superlative first novel by Ruta Sepetys demonstrates the strength of its unembellished language. Thus, 15-year-old Lina Vilkas, along with her mother and younger brother, is deported from her Lithuanian home by the Soviet secret police in 1941, and begins a cattle-car journey through a series of forced-labor camps that will span 12 years and 6,500 miles.
In the 1930s and ’40s, Josef Stalin’s regime killed tens of millions of people, a number so large that the mind tends to shunt it off into the abstract space reserved for statistics. “Between Shades of Gray” tells the individual’s story that makes such cold facts meaningful. Apart from a few overly dramatic metaphors, Lina recounts her story with a straightforward clarity that trusts readers to summon images of starvation, disease and death, and grounds them in a reality young adults can understand.
After 15 months of forced labor in Siberia, Lina’s journey ends at the very edge of the world: Trofimovsk, on the Laptev Sea well beyond the Arctic Circle, where the brutal climate worsens already unbearable conditions. (A timeline and two frontispiece maps showing the route will be especially helpful to readers unfamiliar with Stalinist Russia.) Lina’s family and other prisoners are forced to build barracks for the armed Soviet guards and to construct their own shelters from scrap and driftwood: “It looked like something a child would make in the dirt. And we had to live in it.”
Flashbacks in italics provide glimpses of Lina’s life before the genocide in an educated middle-class milieu (her father was a university professor). We learn about family and friends through Lina’s eyes, and even minor characters are convincingly portrayed through their dialogue and actions.
Readers also discover the extent of the tragedy. They witness the Soviet invasion of the Baltic States, with the subsequent murder of millions and the displacement of millions more. And they learn that many survivors were forced into the impossible position of supporting Hitler, compelled by their fear and hatred of Stalin. Yet Sepetys adroitly holds the exposition of complex political events to a minimum, and short chapters allow for the psychological deep breaths necessary when reading about relentless atrocity.
As expected in Y.A. fiction, Lina has both a love interest and a special skill. Her relationship with another refugee is one of attraction amid desperation, their physical desire tamped down only by the limits of their emaciated, louse-ridden bodies. Lina’s talent for drawing likewise plays a role: in her attempts to get a coded message to her father; in the assignments she is given by her Soviet captors for map-copying and portraiture; in the flashbacks to her life as a promising art student.
While Sepetys takes care not to overwhelm readers with endless accounts of murder, the miasma of death hangs over Lina’s journey, and a wrenching loss near the end delivers a hefty emotional punch. An epilogue answers certain questions a bit too neatly, but the story that precedes it holds a messier and more powerful reality, for both Lina and for her country.
Linda Sue Park’s most recent book is the novel “A Long Walk to Water.”
Los Angeles Times
March 27, 2011
Between Shades of Gray
Philomel: 344 pp., ages 12 and up
In young adult books about World War II, the Holocaust dominates. But there are lesser-known atrocities that also took place, including during the Soviet occupation of the Baltic states. The Soviets not only displaced countless Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians, leaving them to die, but wiped those countries from the map for much of the last century.
It's this story that is told in "Between Shades of Gray," the heart-wrenching debut novel from Ruta Sepetys. Sepetys is the granddaughter of a Lithuanian military officer who himself escaped to a refugee camp during World War II. Other members of her extended family weren't so lucky. They were deported to Siberia, forced into hard labor or imprisoned, much like the fictional characters here.
The book begins not with words but with a map. Titled "The Journey," it shows the thousands of miles traveled by 15-year-old Lina, her 10-year-old brother Jonas and their mother, Elena, in 1941 after they were snatched from their home in the Lithuanian city of Kaunas in the middle of the night, thrown on a truck and transported across Belarus to a labor camp in Siberia and finally to the Arctic Circle.
"They took me in my nightgown" are the book's first words. It's a horrific scene of forced family separation. Lina's father is missing, and the family's terror only intensifies as her mother trades all her money and several items of jewelry to Russian soldiers to keep her two children by her side as they navigate an uncertain future.
They haven't been told where they will be taken or why they were even on the Soviets' list. That story gradually unfolds over the course of this elegantly written yet fast-paced novel in flashbacks triggered by the events of the family's capture.
"Between Shades of Gray" is written retrospectively from Lina's point of view, a subliminal indication to the reader that despite the hardships she endures, she will survive.
Lina is headstrong and an artist. The daughter of a professor, she idolizes the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch for his honesty and had hoped to attend a top-notch art academy before that dream was thwarted. In the labor camps where she was forced to dig potatoes out of the ground with her bare hands but not allowed to eat them, Lina uses drawing to channel "a sadness so deep, like your very core has been hollowed out and fed back to you from a dirty bucket."
In writing "Between Shades of Gray," Sepetys traveled to Lithuania twice to interview survivors of the Soviet genocide. The details of those interviews are folded into the book's larger narrative with a sober clarity that simultaneously horrifies and fascinates, making the tragedy of the characters' situations palpable.
The Washington Post
New novels for children
By Mary Quattlebaum,
BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY
By Ruta Sepetys
Philomel., ages 12 and up.
Wrenched from comfortable homes, Lina Vilkas, 15, and her mother, younger brother and a few neighbors on “the list” are transported to a barren, frozen land. Lina, a talented artist, chronicles their suffering on scraps of paper and cloth and smuggles the notes out . . . but help never comes. Her father has been imprisoned, and the larger world busies itself with a distant war.
Though this may sound like the latest dystopian novel, Lina’s story actually takes place in 1941, against the backdrop of Joseph Stalin’s “cleansing” of the Baltic States. To evoke the horrors and hope of this time in Siberia, author Ruta Sepetys interviewed her Lithuanian relatives and many other deportees. Her prose is restrained and powerful, as unadorned as the landscape in which her characters struggle to survive. In this way, the occasional metaphors and descriptions shine more brightly, especially those involving a kind boy who, at various times, steals food from the guards for the sick, gives Lina a birthday gift and softly kisses her. Few books are beautifully written, fewer still are important; this novel is both.
March 19, 2011
A terrible time, punctuated with hope
Article by: LAURIE HERTZEL ,
A Lithuanian girl and her family are sent into exile.
Back when I worked in Duluth, an elegant middle-aged man used to come by the newsroom now and again to chastise us about Estonia. He usually showed up after we had run wire news from the Soviet Union; if the story carried a dateline of Vilnius, USSR, or Tallinn, USSR, or Riga, USSR, he would voice his firm objection.
USSR, he would tell us -- calmly at first, and then with mounting frustration -- did not belong in the dateline. These were not Soviet cities; these would never be Soviet cities.
The man had fled Estonia in the 1940s when it, along with Latvia and Lithuania, was annexed by the Soviet Union. Over time, he had made it his mission to pound into our young and history-deprived journalist brains the sad fate of the Baltics.
If only Ruta Sepetys' novel had been around then; it would have hammered that history home.
"Between Shades of Gray" -- billed as a young-adult novel, but one that everyone should read -- opens with a clash between normalcy and terror. On a balmy June evening in 1941, a 15-year-old Lithuanian girl named Lina sits down to write a letter when she is interrupted by someone pounding on the front door. Soviet secret police burst in and order the family to pack their things and get out.
What follows is a series of intense scenes, almost unbearable in their detail. The family is crushed with dozens of other deportees into one car of a long train labeled "Thieves and Prostitutes." There, with no bathroom, almost no food, no ventilation, nowhere to sit, they must endure an interminable journey east, and north, into exile.
Just when you, the reader, think you cannot breathe that fetid air another moment -- Sepetys' writing is that vivid -- the train stops, and the Lithuanians stagger out and find themselves in Siberia. They spend most of a year in a labor camp, living in deprivation and squalor, but it is nothing compared to where they are sent next -- Trofimovsk, above the Arctic Circle, where there is no shelter for them at all.
In the face of this brutality, however, there is humanity, humor and love. Lina's mother maintains a calm dignity, reminding Lina and her brother that even in the worst of times they must treat others with respect. Lina learns not to judge the woman who becomes the Soviets' concubine, or the woman's son, who uses his access to luxury to steal food for the other prisoners.
Sepetys' father escaped Lithuania during the war, but many of his relatives were sent into exile. Sepetys spent years researching this period in history, traveling to the former Soviet Union, taking what must have been meticulous notes. This book sings with truth.
Laurie Hertzel, the Star Tribune books editor, is the co-author of "They Took My Father: Finnish Americans in Stalin's Russia."
'You really must read this book, and not just for the history, but for the beautifully written story'
Compared to books for adults, there are not really many 'good' historical fiction books written for teens, so I'm happy to say that I read Ruta Sepetys' first novel, Between Shades Of Gray, in one sitting. It follows the story of Lina, a 15-year-old living in Lithuania in 1941 when the Soviet secret police barge into her home and drag her and her family off to work camps.
At school you learn about the Holocaust, Jewish refugees and Hitler's Nazi party, but hundreds of thousands who were persecuted across Europe for daring to speak their mind are usually forgotten. This book not only helps you learn about the plight of those taken from Lithuania and the surrounding counties by the Soviet secret police, but it makes you feel like Lina is a girl, just like you, which makes the fight for her life and the horrors she has to suffer, as well as those of the people she meets and the friends she makes along the way, really hit home. You really must read this book, and not just for the history, but for the beautifully well written story that in any context really touches your heart.
Saturday, June 4, 2011
Kids' books: "Between Shades of Gray" (for ages 12 up) details the efforts by a strong-willed Lithuanian teen and her family to survive the harsh reality of being deported to a prison camp in Siberia in 1941.
Scripps Howard News Service
For years, Ruta Sepetys, founder/owner of a Nashville, Tenn.-based artist-management company, has helped singers and songwriters tell their stories to the world. Then one day, one of them asked her: "So, what's YOUR story?"
"I thought about it, and my first thought was panic," Sepetys said in a recent interview. "I thought, 'Do I have a story? What is my story?' "
It turns out that Sepetys — through her extended family in Lithuania — actually had an incredible story to tell, a story that few Americans have heard and which millions in Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia were afraid to tell for many years because of fear of execution.
Sepetys' story is the basis for her debut novel, "Between Shades of Gray" (Philomel, $17.99, ages 12 up), which details the efforts by a strong-willed, middle-class Lithuanian teen named Lina and her family to survive the harsh reality of suddenly being deported to a prison camp in Siberia in 1941.
Heartbreaking, searing and lyrically written, "Between Shades of Gray" is a novel that is both challenging to read without weeping, and impossible to forget — especially when readers realize that Sepetys based her book on firsthand accounts from Lithuanian survivors of the Siberian camps. Overall, readers will finish the book with a strong sense of hope, as well as a desire to ensure that such things never happen again.
"Writing the book put me through the emotional wringer," Sepetys acknowledged.
Sepetys stumbled across the story that eventually became "Between Shades of Gray" when she visited Lithuanian relatives in 2005. She asked if they had any photographs of her father and grandfather, who had fled to Germany and then the United States during the World War II crackdown by Soviet leader Josef Stalin.
"When I asked that, there was silence," Sepetys recalled. Then she learned that, after her father and grandfather had left Lithuania, other family members had been branded as enemies of the state and sent to Soviet prison camps.
It was part of an effort by Stalin to absorb the former Baltic countries of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia into the Soviet Union. Many citizens of those countries were sent to prison camps, and those left behind quickly learned to keep silent to avoid punishment or even execution.
Sepetys was stunned to learn that 20 million people were killed under Stalin's regime. Yet, unlike the well-documented Holocaust under Nazi leader Adolf Hitler — the systematic, bureaucratic murder of approximately 6 million Jews — few people elsewhere knew much about Stalin's genocide until the 1990s, when the Soviet Union broke apart and countries like Lithuania gained their independence.
Sepetys knew it was a story that she needed to tell. Because of the still-palpable fear of the Lithuanians with whom she spoke, however, Sepetys decided that she needed to write a novel, rather than a nonfiction volume, as a way of making people more willing to talk with her.
With that decision, Sepetys gained people's trust, "and I was sent from one person's house to the next person's house,"she said.
To tell the story, Sepetys interviewed dozens of people, spent time in a train car that once had carried Lithuanians to Siberia and even participated in an experiment in a Soviet prison where she experienced the kind of brutal treatment she writes about in "Between Shades of Gray."
That experiment "gave me such a profound respect for the people who survived these camps, and who even risked their lives for people they didn't even know,"Sepetys said.
While Sepetys clearly details the harshness of the prison camps, she also illuminates the unquenchable hope of many prisoners. As one former prisoner told Sepetys: "When you are exposed to an experience so horrific, something inside of you dies. But, in some people, something is reborn in that place. ... They've (the Soviets) took so much of our lives; if we had given them our spirits, we would have lost everything."
Sepetys has clearly struck a chord with her novel, which has won stellar reviews from critics and readers; foreign rights have been sold in 22 countries. Even more importantly, "Between Shades of Gray" has convinced many other Soviet-prison-camp survivors to get in touch with Sepetys to finally tell their stories.
Sepetys hopes to convince her publisher to use these stories in a nonfiction companion to "Between Shades of Gray." Meanwhile, she's working on her second book, a novel set in New Orleans in the 1950s.
"I really want to write a lot of books,"Sepetys said. "But if I never publish another book, I'm glad that people will know me for 'Between Shades of Gray.' "
Karen MacPherson is children's/teen librarian at the Takoma Park, Md., Library
My third and last interviewee is Ruta Sepetys, and I’m very keen on finding out how she discovered her Lithuanian family background. Partly because it’s an interesting topic, but also because I feel the Baltic states are almost part of my own background.
Did you know anything about this subject before you went to Lithuania and started talking to family members?’
‘I definitely knew about the subject, but I didn’t really know about my family’s experience. It was the first time I went to Lithuania and the first time I had met my relatives. My father hadn’t even met the relatives that I was meeting. So that was the discovery when I first met with them. I knew of course of the deportations, but not my family’s involvement.’
‘So did your father not talk to you because he didn’t know either? In that case did your grandfather, or did you not know your grandfather?’
‘Oh no, I did. My grandfather lived to be nearly 90 years old, and in hindsight he absolutely knew, and now that opens up so much about my grandfather. So much more makes sense now you know, why his shoulders would look like he was carrying this sense of guilt, which he did not tell my father. And when I came home and said “Dad, do you know that when you fled they came for your cousins?” and he had no idea, you know. History holds secrets, and families hold secrets. Secrets are painful and secrets can be destructive, and when I spoke with these people you could see in their face… I mean 50 years had passed but their hands still shook when they spoke about it.’
‘And so I think it was easier, and also it was a generational thing I think. My grandparents didn’t live in the past, and my grandmother would say “enough of that”, you know.’
‘It was interesting, because you really only just skated over poor Mr Stalas. I wasn’t aware of this, but my husband told me that apparently the Jews didn’t fare very well in Lithuania in those days.’
‘I’m so glad you’re bringing that up, because it was tragic. Lithuania was first occupied by the Soviets and then later the Germans came, and they killed over 200,000 Jews. And then the Soviets came back in, and the Jewish population suffered under each occupation. It also created a really complex dynamic between neighbours even, and some people told me that in the face of fear they misjudged people, and that guilt is on them. So I created that character of the bald man and gave him a grumpy demeanour hoping that maybe the reader would misjudge him. In the end he’s really a hero.’
‘When he revealed himself as being a Jew I thought “so what?”, but clearly it was a far harder thing to admit to than I imagined. One thing I wondered about, was that Lina kept drawing throughout their dreadful journey. Do you think this is possible when things are so bad?’
‘Actually I got that directly from survivors. They showed me materials – in that train car where it was a lottery of life and death – they were expressing their pain through art and music and they showed me samples. A woman showed me a handkerchief, where in the train car she was trying to draw a map of where they were going, and another person showed me a very thin slice of wood that they had carved on, and they kept it with them the entire time. Probably the art was a bit more crude than in the book, but it was a survivor’s story that fired that.’
‘So what did happen to your grandfather? What age was he?’
‘My grandfather? He was in his late thirties, an officer in the Lithuanian military, and when Stalin pushed in they received word that they were at risk, so my grandfather fled with my father who was ten years old and my grandmother. They went into refugee camps in Germany.’
‘Like the cousin in your book?’
‘Exactly, and they lived there for nine years and they wanted to go to Australia and they went to the boat to get to Australia. But they refused my family because my aunt Ruta had a cough. So the next day they went over to the boat to the United States and got on.’ Ruta laughs. ‘And that’s how we ended up in the US.’
‘If I may say so, you look so very Baltic.’
‘Anna said the same thing.’
‘It’s surprising because… your mother’s from somewhere else?’
‘No, my mother is Lithuanian, born in the United States.’
‘OK, so you are fully Lithuanian in that sense. It’s very fascinating, that you are both so American and yet also Lithuanian.’
‘People have approached me in the street. We can sort of pick each other out. My parents very much wanted me to marry a Lithuanian, but I couldn’t find one.’ She laughs.
‘That must get harder for each generation, I imagine.’
‘Yes,’ she laughs.
‘You been over to visit Lithuania twice? And you’ve got relatives that you know and are in contact with?’
‘Yeah, but the younger generation, my cousins who are younger than me, their freedom is somewhat fragile and they’re interested in moving ahead. They don’t want to stay in the past. But the older generation very much still want to talk.’
‘Did you not think there was a drawback in ending the book quite so glumly?’
‘Well, it’s interesting that you say that, because the initial draft of the book was very, very bleak, and my editor said “you cannot do this, this story has to end with hope.” And that was difficult for me and I said “no, that is disrespectful to the people who went through this.” We really struggled with that, but in the end people say that it’s hopeful, so it’s interesting to hear you say you thought it was a bit glum.’
‘It’s less so than it could have been, but it’s still far off a really happy ending. The fact that they got together again, is a bit of a miracle seeing as they got separated.’
‘I thought so too, and that so many people survived as well. Originally I pretty much killed everyone’. She laughs heartily at this. ‘My editor said “why would someone want to read this? Who would willingly go in and subject themselves to this horror?”’
‘How has the book been received in America?’
‘Really well. I’m shocked, because this is a story about a girl deported to Siberia, and it’s competing against these commercial titles that are so exciting. As a teen, if you’d have said “oh, it’s this really great novel about this girl starving in Siberia.”’ We laugh, long and loudly. ‘Can you imagine? But you know, it’s been really well received. It’s been great. I’m so fortunate.’
‘Will you return to this subject?’
‘Six months ago when someone asked me I said actually I would not. I considered it done. But now that the book is published I’ve received so many requests to continue the story. They want to know what happened in the Baltics when these people returned. The other thing is that I’ve received a lot of emails from relatives of these survivors, telling me stories about what happened to their grandmother or their grandfather, and it might be nice to put together a collection of stories of the survivors.’
‘It would be interesting.’
‘Are you working on something else now?’
‘Yes, I’m working on another historical fiction novel, completely different, set in New Orleans in the 1950s.’
Our eleven minutes are over and we both get up to make our way to the next place on the agenda. I’m busy looking forward to Ruta’s next book, while she wants to know what else I’ve been reading, and it doesn’t take us long to discover a shared favourite.
Giovedì 8 Settembre 2011
AVEVANO SPENTO ANCHE LA LUNA
Avevano spento anche la luna: Ruta Sepetys racconta il dramma dei Gulag
Martino De Mori
Ci sono pagine della Storia che a volte cadono nel dimenticatoio o che, spesso, si sceglie di dimenticare. Arcipelago Gulag, il libro di Aleksandr Solženicyn sull’orrore dei campi d’internamento sovietici, uscì in Italia nel 1974 e passò quasi inosservato: i tempi non erano ancora abbastanza maturi per accettare quel pezzo di verità storica.
A quasi quarant’anni di distanza le cose sono ovviamente cambiate, ma forse non quanto ci si aspetterebbe davvero. Le atrocità dell’URSS sono state ampiamente sdoganate, ma Arcipelago Gulag rimane ancora, almeno in letteratura, una voce piuttosto solitaria. Sarà anche per questo che Avevano spento anche la luna (Garzanti), romanzo d’esordio di Ruta Sepetys, ha colpito i lettori e la critica in gran parte del mondo.
È il 1941 quando Lina, una ragazza di quindici anni figlia di un rettore universitario, viene strappata dalla casa in Lituania nel cuore della notte, insieme alla madre e al fratellino. Come tanti altri sono nella lista nera della polizia sovietica, e per questo vengono deportati nel gelido e terribile campo di lavoro dell’Altaj, in Siberia.
Vittime di una disumana e ingiustificata prigionia, Lina e la sua famiglia possono solo cercare di sopravvivere, senza però rinunciare all’unico bene prezioso a loro rimasto: la dignità. E così Lina, quando non è costretta a lavorare, comunica il proprio coraggioso attaccamento alla vita disegnando, con la caparbietà di chi è convinto che quello sia l’unico modo per salvarsi.
Ruta Sepetys, americana di nascita ma figlia di rifugiati lituani, ha deciso di impugnare la penna dopo essersi recata in Lituania per approfondire le origini della propria famiglia. La scoperta della vicenda del nonno, un ufficiale dell’esercito finito nelle liste di Stalin, è stata la molla che l’ha spinta a visitare i campi in Siberia e a conoscere direttamente i testimoni ancora in vita, con l’obiettivo infine di ricavarne questo doloroso e struggente libro.
Lo spunto che ha portato Sepetys a scrivere il romanzo ha delle similitudini con quello di Jonathan Safran Foer, che scrisse Ogni cosa è illuminata dopo aver visitato l’Ucraina in cerca di notizie sulla vita del nonno.
Violência, fome , frio, miasmas, doença: o horror como lugar-comum
O Longo Inverno
Ruta Sepetys (Trad. Susana Sousa e Silva), Contraponto, 2011
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