In 1941, Russia invades Lithuania. Suddenly, people who have not committed any crimes are uprooted and secretly transported to work camps and prisons where they are worked like animals, treated with abuse and nearly starved. They are given no medical treatment, inadequate nourishment and sub par housing. An underground develops to try and rescue those in danger, including educators, bankers, priests, and children. No one is exempt; no one is safe from Stalin’s divine plan.
This is a powerful story centered on a family that is tragically uprooted by a brutal government, sent to Siberia and forced to live in literally unbearable conditions for more than a decade. The central character of the story is Lina. She is an exceptionally skilled artist and records the history of events with secret, carefully hidden drawings in much the same way that another young girl recorded the nightmare of her life, in her diary, Anne Frank; but that is where the comparison ends, for Lina is an entirely fictional character.
Lina's father tried to help his family escape. For that he was arrested and Lina, her mother and brother, are suddenly ordered to leave their home and are taken to a work camp on the outskirts of Siberia where their suffering knows no end. The brutality of the Russians, knew no bounds, and it was similar to that of the Germans during this time of the Holocaust, and yet, little is known of this event during this period of history. How is it possible, I asked myself continuously as I read, for such atrocities to go unnoticed, unheeded by those near to the victims. Although this is not a true story, it is based on actual events in the author's family’s life. How could decent people allow such things to happen and turn a blind eye? I know the survival instinct is strong, but what about the human instinct? The military was inhuman. Neighbors turned on each other out of fear. These perverse regimes seemed to find every sadist and use them effectively. Throughout history, and in the current day, we see evidence of such evil continuing. Perhaps we simply do not learn from the past because we choose to ignore it as it occurs.
The story moves back and forth from present to past, nightmare to dream, without interruption. I listened to an audio book. When it changed time periods it was often confusing, since the change from the nightmare of their present life to memories of good times past was unexpected and without warning. Each time, it took a few moments to place the event in its proper time and place, so perhaps I would have been better off reading this book.
Of those who were not murdered outright, many fell victim do the viciousness of their treatment and either lost the will to live or simply could not survive the deprivation and abuse. Who lived and who died was based on a capricious destiny. Illness, hunger, discomfort and suffering were everywhere. Underlying the horrors of the revolution was a beautiful story of a love that endured the nightmare existence.
I have one disclaimer. I found a particular character unnecessarily portrayed as a cantankerous, selfish, brutish man. Why was this man even identified as Jewish? Why not Christian? Why was a Jewish man chosen for that role? Why was his religion even relevant? He was in greater danger than the others, since Germany later invaded Lithuania and was hell bent on annihilating Jews. So why was the Jew chosen to be portrayed in such a way and not as a sympathetic, likeable human being? Too many books, of late, choose to have a negative character in them, identified as a Jew. I am concerned about this trend. Does it indicate a pervasive anti-Semitism, another moment in time when people are turning a blind eye?
***Although this is a young adult novel, I believe it is also for adults.