Narrator: Emily Klein
Published by Penguin Audio on March 22, 2011
Genres: Historical Fiction
Length: 7 hours, 47 minutes
Audio | Goodreads
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.
I don’t know what I was expecting when I decided to read this story since I relied on friends’ recommendations. I knew it was about Stalin’s deportation of Lithuanians in 1939, which in itself was an aspect of world history I hadn’t known. Nothing could have prepared me for the reality of that action, told using fictional characters (with one exception) but recited based on factual recollections.
I implore you to read this book as there was a concerted governmental effort to bury what happened to the Lithuanians, Estonians and Latvians for decades. It is an important story because it needs to be known and what happened should never be repeated. The author asks that we share it and I’m certainly taking on that challenge.
I listened to the story and, aside from the transitions between the past and present not being clear, it was narrated beautifully in the voice of 15-year old Lina. A big bonus was the voice of the author at the end, providing more context and her purpose for writing the story. It is emotional and brought me to tears.
It’s not an easy read; I just don’t know where people get the ability to lose their humanity in the ways portrayed here. But, the resilience of the Lithuanians in this story to survive is extraordinary and that in itself was inspiring. To choose to survive when death clearly is easier is remarkable. I’m glad my friends recommended this book because I’ll never forget this part of our history.
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