I’ve been waiting to do a historical fiction recommendation for a while now. As soon as it gets below freezing and the snow starts, historical fiction is so amazing to read. There’s just something about the atmosphere of it all – especially the ones that pertain to World War II, as these ones do. No matter how much you prepare your emotions for this one, I’m still not sure you’ll be ready. These two books are so powerful, gripping, and heart breaking. If you’ve read and liked either of these then I KNOW you’ll love the other one!
First I wanted to talk about Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. Out of the two, this is the one that I hear about more often on the blogosphere. This hold the record for the most amount of times I cried while reading a book. It destroyed me – and multiple times. I think the first time I cried was only about 20 pages in. We follow 15 year old Lina who was taken from her home, along with her mother and brother, and brought to a work camp. Their father wasn’t with them and she wonders where he is and if he’s ok. Using her art, she attempts to send messages to her father, while holding out hope that they will one day be a family and free again. This is all taking place in deplorable conditions and an unforgiving setting, yet this family and those around them survive and hope for the best.
Next we have City of Thieves by David Benioff. I picked this one up because of the premise – Two men were about to be executed in a prison in Leningrad when they were given the option of a second chance. Find a dozen eggs for a powerful Soviet colonel to use in his daughter’s wedding cake and they would immediately be given their lives and freedom. Leningrad during WWII was cut off from everything, leaving the people to starve to death and do what they needed to do to survive, so a dozen fresh eggs was next to impossible. These two men travel through war torn lands, trying to find the impossible, in hopes it will save their lives. This one had an unexpected lighthearted humour at times, which made the horrors feel all the more painful. I really can’t say enough for this book!!
HERE’S WHAT THE TWO BOOKS HAVE IN COMMON:
- The obvious first thing in common with these is that they are both set during the time period of WWII.
- The settings are also very similar although they’re in very different places. City of Thieves takes place in Leningrad and Between Shades of Gray takes place in Siberia (and a few other places). Both are freezing cold, under a blanket of snow, and have little to no resources at all. Food is scarce and lodging is inhumane.
- They both have the main theme of survival in the worst conditions possible. People are starving and would do anything for the smallest scraps of food. Basic necessities such as beds/blankets and self care items. Not only are these characters trying to survive their conditions, they’re also trying to survive the government that is trying to extinguish them. They’re trying to figure out who to trust, what’s truth and a lie. These characters also do things that, if it weren’t for them being in the situation that they were in, never would have done some of the things they did.
- Finding hope amidst the horrors they faced was one of the most powerful messages conveyed through both of these books. No matter what they faced some times, they always seemed to be able to find a silver lining. This always astounds me and I’m not sure I would be able to do the same.
- Along the same lines with hope, the characters were always able to appreciate every single small thing they had. When they had been stripped of everything they owned and known, even something as small as an extra ration of food or a piece of paper felt like you had won the lottery.
- Grief while also trying to save yourself. These conditions were a living nightmare. You never knew from one moment to the next if you were going to see the light of day tomorrow. Your sense of survival and self preservation was so high – but at the same time there were people out there that you wanted to hold out hope for as well. But the helplessness in making sure that those people were ok was completely out of your control. All of these characters felt so many different stages of grief. For those they love, those who were strangers, those who were lost, and those who were still alive. The grief throughout these books was just so large and its own living being.
The two of these books are similar in some ways but very different in others. The ages of the main characters is off by quite a few years (Lina in Between Shades of Gray being younger) and one is female while the others is male main characters. Also Between Shades of Gray is mainly about the experiences of people as they live in work camps, while City of Thieves is about two men travelling through Leningrad and the surrounding area searching for their freedom. Lastly, as I’ve already mentioned, City of Thieves had a bit of humour sprinkled through the story, both in the form of characters and circumstance. But there are quite a few core elements that reminded me of the other and I have a strong feeling that if you liked one then you’ll like the other!
Until next time, happy reading!