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.
This was definitely a better read for me than The Selection it is completely different, and a lot better written. I gave this book 4/5, because it is so beautifully written, it astounded me. I would kill to be able to form some of the sentences that Sepetys managed to.
The first thing that I want to talk about is the imagery in this book. It was absolutely wonderful, so well written and formed into the book, it made it so much better. The way that the sentences were placed within the story meant that there was always an impact, that it always made you feel something, regardless of what was happening or had happened.
The characters were well-formed and I really enjoyed the progression of their journey and how they grew as people. It was all made to be important and it makes all the difference. There were never any characters that I wanted to know more about, they were all satisfactorily described, especially the secondary characters, I thought that they were all given their own importance within the story and the plotline.
One thing that was my favourite was the way that the plot was never repetitive or boring, there was never a lull, and it was always interesting reading. There was a lovely pace to it as well, although the story was despair filled, the pace was uplifting, and made it easier to push through everything that was happening.
Onto the in depth thoughts…
I think the start of the book was really the strongest part for me, in terms of imagery anyway, when we meet Lina and her family they are just about to be dragged away from their home and their life. I think that this line ‘He threw his burning cigarette onto our clean living room floor and ground it into the wood with his boot. We were about to become cigarettes’ sums up my feelings for this part of the book. The author has described the oppression and the horrors that they were going to face within that first sentence, I personally think that it was brilliant way to sum what was happening to them in a few sentences.
The destroying of the mother’s china was another part of the book that spoke strongly to me. I thought the way that she was smashing the plates onto the floor, and declaring ‘Because I love them so much’ it was a part of the foreshadowing, that everything that they loved was better of destroyed than falling into the Soviet’s hands.
One thing that I thought let the book down in the long run was the inconsistencies in the narrator, I found it really hard to keep a track on how old she was. The reason why is that one minute her mother is hiding every detail about where they’re going and why from her, but then discussing everything in front of her, which I thought was a little confusing. Another thing was within the memories, the narrator is smart enough to comment on current affairs, about the way that Stalin is running his country, but didn’t know enough not to draw a picture of Stalin in a clown suit. Which didn’t make any sense in the grand scheme of things.
Talking of the memories, I understand the greater meaning of them at the end of the book, however I felt that throughout the book it broke the story up rather than anything else. I don’t know whether it would work any other way, but I didn’t feel any kind of attachment to them. In terms of things that I was a little disappointed at was the fact that some of the dialogue I found to be a little wooden and unrealistic, it kind of hindered the story and my feelings towards the characters.
Amongst the beautiful imagery and writing, there were some things that didn’t make much sense at all, I understand that the narrator is sixteen and spending a lot of time in the company of the same people. I don’t know whether it was appropriate for her to begin falling in love with one of them, I don’t know whether the line ‘You can’t help who you fall in love with‘ makes sense here, because I would have thought the impending problems would be more of a concern.
I was impressed with the description and reaction to the molestation, I thought that it was realistic and so was the way that Lina held herself afterwards. I was impressed because more often than not in the books I have read this type of thing is used as a horrible thing and then swept under the rug when the character needs to become an important member of the story again.
For me, Lina still had the problem of being completely ridiculous as a character, even though she was supposed to have some understanding of her situation, one would hope, she still refuses to keep her mouth shut and shouts out words such as ‘Pigs’ in the earshot of the guards that control her food intake and rations. I don’t think I need to tell anyone how unrealistic this would be.
I really enjoyed the mother’s point of view on things, I thought that the idea of her preparing her family for the winter was so realistic and so well done that it made me happy. Not that they were starving but that they were actually planning ahead for the snow and the starvation that winter could bring. It was a redeemable feature for the characters.
Andrius, the boy who has captured the heart of our narrator, quickly becomes one of my favourites as he calls Lina out on her stupid behaviour and the way she is acting around the camp and the thought that she is the only one who is starving or in danger of death. I thought that this needed to happen, and I was quite surprised that Lina didn’t already have this thought process.
The use of the letters and the Psalm as a method of communicating was another instance of the ‘becoming a cigarette’ I thought that this was showing the horrors that everyone was going through, I thought it was beautifully done and it made me increasingly sad as I read it. The use of the pencil and Lina’s drawing and her thoughts getting away from her meant that we were seeing the insight into what they really thought off the people surrounding them, and the way that they were supposed to be seen.
I think the most poignant view would be that of the Mother regarding Kretsky (their commander) and the view that although he is doing monstrous things that in fact he is actually just a boy. I thought that this was exceptionally powerful, especially when you combine the idea that he was the one who saves them in the end. I thought that this was refreshing and well done especially when factoring in that the children didn’t agree with her.
One moment that was exceptionally poignant, was the moment in which Lina suddenly realises why she’s there, and the fact that her cousin had escaped from the deportation, and that she had paid with her freedom. This moment, I forgot about the fact that Lina was exceptionally stupid and watched with sadness as she realised that there had been a choice made, and she was never a part of it.
When they reach the Arctic Circle, it became a fast paced nightmare (for the characters). It was wonderfully written and described, I found myself cold when reading it, and an emproaching sadness was creeping through me as people began to die, and their corpses left for the foxes. I was lost for words and for breath, it was an incredibly powerful part of the book, and the relief that I felt when the Doctor came to camp was overwhelming, as though I had been holding my breath until that moment.
This book was a true rollercoaster of emotions, and I found myself upset more and more as we got to the end. That isn’t to say that it wasn’t without it’s failings, and as you can see above that there were a few, that was the main reason it only got 4. I think that the imagery saved this book from being unreadable.