So where I come from, university exams finish right at the end of April. Which means that I’ve already had two months of summer vacation, with two months still to go! Now obviously I haven’t been just sitting around and doing nothing, like I did a lot during the summers back in high school. I’ve already been on a three week vacation, been in my year end dance show, helped my friend prep for her wedding (which is in four days, I’m so excited!), and I’ve been working a lot.
I’ve also been reading a lot. Plane rides and train rides and lunch hours are very good for your reading milage. So I thought that I would talk about the top two books that I’ve read so far this summer. Go get some snacks, this may be a long one. (These are such good books that I don’t know if I can keep it brief!)
Between Shades of Grey – Ruta Stepetys
Okay, so I’d like to warn you off the bat that this book is not light reading. It’s set during World War 2, and it’s about a part of second world war history which is not very well known.
It follows Lina, a Lithuanian teenager, as she and her family are deported from their home country by Stalinist Russia. Lina, her mum, and her brother are separated from her father. Along with many other innocent Lithuanians, they end up in Siberia. Lina’s family are victim’s of the Genocide of the Baltic Peoples-in which (according to some quick research, so don’t quote me on this – although it does sound right from what I already knew) approximately seven million people died. Now, I’ve taken three world history courses which cover this time period, and we’ve talked about this all of once. Unlike the commonly known Holocaust, this has been covered up by various Russian and Soviet regimes after the war, all of which would have made it extremely dangerous to speak out about the atrocities which occurred during this genocide.
This next paragraph is a bit of a spoiler, so be warned.
The most moving and fascinating scene, in my opinion, happens when Lina and the other prisoners are moved extremely far north, above the Arctic Circle. The NKVD (Soviet police or soldiers or something like that – to me they seemed analogous to the SS or Gestapo) herd the prisoners into buildings, and forbid them from leaving. All the while, American troops are bringing food, building supplies, clothing, and more – giving them to the NKVD, who are hiding the Lithuanians from the Americans. The Soviets know that they are doing something wrong; they know that the Americans would have a problem with this, that they would fight back about this unjustified persecution of innocent people. This angers me – when I read it I was livid. It’s just so infuriating that people can ever do such truly heinous things and know that they’re wrong. I can’t even properly put it into words.
My recommendation is that you read this book. Now. Despite living through such horrific events, Lina, her family, and her fellow prisoners keep hope. It’s rather sappy, but that is really inspirational to me. I also think that it’s super important that people learn about things like this. Novels are a great way to get basic information on a subject – I personally plan on reading up on this as much as possible (although a cursory Google search already shows me that this is going to be difficult to find information- maybe I’ll hit up my school library!)
A Song for Summer – Eva Ibbotson
This book is much, much lighter than the other – despite being set around the same time period. And I’m going to be perfectly honest: I haven’t actually finished this book yet, although I’m pretty darn close. But I can tell that the ending will be just as good as the rest. I’ve read other books by Eva Ibbotson; The Star of Kazan was a favourite of mine when I was a kid. Ibbotson has a sort of magical style of writing. I honestly don’t know how to explain it – her books are set in the “real world”, and yet they feel almost like fantasy novels.
Ellen is an English woman, who grew up in a house full of extremely feminist aunts and her equally feminist mother. But instead of wanting an academic career, as was encouraged by her family, she moves to Austria to be a house mother and house keeper at a rather odd school for the arts. You quickly meet all the personalities who reside at the school – the ballet instructor who gives herself the biggest role; the metalwork teacher who runs around naked, showing off a scary looking appendix scar; an angry Marxist (but also very rich) student; a cute, innocent little girl, abandoned by her divorced parents; all of the characters are larger than life, and yet the setting of the Hallendorf School is more than large enough to hold them all. Alongside all these large character is the gardener, Marek. Marek is the only “sane” person at the school. He gives tortoises wheels so that they can walk easier, showing exactly the kind of compassion that Ellen likes 😉 But – at the risk of sounding like a cheesy back cover blurb – Marek comes with a mysterious past.
Seriously, this book is like sunshine. It’s glorious. Despite being set at the onset of the Second World War, in Austria (pre-annexation), I’ve still been smiling the whole way through the book. And yes, even though it’s a book that feels like summer in written form, it also puts an excellent emphasis on what it was like to live in Austria while the threat of Hitler overshadowed everything. Also it uses the word “defenestrate” on a fairly regular basis. I love it. It’s worth reading for the ridiculous opera singer alone….
I’ve been reading it on my Kobo, but I think I want to buy the physical book so I can mark it up a bit (oh the english major in me will not be kept down).
Please read this book. And then get back to me and tell me what you think.
Actually, please read both the books. They’re super different, but both excellent. Let me know what you think!