Between Shades of Gray

Between Shades of Gray

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Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Speak edition of Between Shades of Gray published in 2012.
Chapter 2 Quotes

“Promise me that if anyone tries to help you, you will ignore them. We will resolve this ourselves. We must not pull family or friends into this confusion, do you understand? Even if someone calls out to you, you must not respond.”

Related Characters: Elena Vilkas (speaker), Lina Vilkas
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:

As Lina sits writing a letter to her cousin Joana on June 14, 1941, NKVD officers barge into her home and demand that she, her brother Jonas, and her mother Elena pack up their things and leave with them. They are being arrested by the Soviet Union’s secret police, the NKVD. Stalin has recently annexed Lithuania, and is rounding up those who have expressed dissent against the state. Lina’s father, Kostas, the provost of the local university, has already been arrested.

In this quote, Elena, Lina’s mother, urges her not to speak to anyone she sees in the streets while they are being marched away by the NKVD. This is so they do not accidentally entangle anyone else in what Elena dubs a “confusion,” or the reason why they have been arrested, which is not clear at the moment. Even though it might be tempting to accept advice, resources, or help from people they might see, that alone could be grounds for arrest by the NKVD, since it would be seen as helping criminals. From now on, the family must fend for itself.


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“But what did you do?” I asked him.
“Nothing, Lina. Have you finished your homework?”
“But you must have done something to deserve free bread,” I pressed.
“I don’t deserve anything. You stand for what is right, Lina, without the expectation of gratitude or reward. Now, off to your homework.”

Related Characters: Kostas Vilkas (speaker), Lina Vilkas
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

Lina has flashback memories throughout the novel, and this is the first of many. In this memory, she recalls one time when she went to the bakery to get a loaf of bread. The woman behind the counter insisted that she take it for free, to thank her for the “kindness” Lina’s father had shown her and others. Here, Lina asks her father what he did, but he won’t tell her, citing the fact that one should not expect something in return when one does a good deed.

At this point Lina does not realize that Kostas has been helping people in the community escape from the clutches of the NKVD. The woman likely has family or friends whom Kostas helped, and that is why she wants to show him a small gesture of gratitude by giving his family bread. Lina later learns that Kostas has been charged with “accessory,” meaning that he was found to have helped people leave the country before the Soviets could arrest them. Kostas knows that this will put him and his family in grave danger, but is determined to do what he can to resist Stalin’s malicious reign.

Chapter 4 Quotes

The truck stopped in front of the hospital. Everyone seemed relieved that they would tend to the bald man’s injuries. But they did not. They were waiting. A woman who was also on the list was giving birth to a baby. As soon as the umbilical cord was cut, they would both be thrown into the truck.

Related Characters: Lina Vilkas (speaker), Mr. Stalas (The Bald Man), Ona
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

After they are arrested, Elena, Jonas, and Lina are thrown into a truck that spends hours rounding up people around Kaunas who are also being arrested by the NKVD. The bald man throws himself from the truck in an attempt to commit suicide, but only succeeds in breaking his leg. In this quote, the passengers on the truck hope that they have arrived at a hospital so that he can receive treatment. Instead, they learn that a woman who is currently in labor and her newborn infant will soon join them.

This quote is the first evidence of the absolute mercilessness of the NKVD. They will not stop at anything to subjugate and imprison people whom they believe to be dissidents towards the state, no matter who or what they are. Ona’s infant child is branded as a thief and a prostitute before it is even born. This shows that their violence is not just brutal, but that it is largely arbitrary, making the deportees feel even more helpless in the clutches of the NKVD. Ona’s infant will become a symbol for children arrested by the NKVD who are not even given a chance at life before they are branded as criminals and left to die on the trains and in the camps.

Chapter 6 Quotes

“Sir,” said Jonas, leaning around me. He held out his little ruler from school. The old woman who had gasped at my nightgown began to cry.

Related Characters: Lina Vilkas (speaker), Jonas Vilkas (speaker), Mr. Stalas (The Bald Man)
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

On the truck, the passengers quickly realize that there will be no chance for the NKVD to help the bald man with his leg injuries. This becomes overwhelmingly evident when they rip Ona and her newborn child out of the hospital, despite the doctor’s desperate pleas to leave the baby, since there is no chance that it will survive. In this quote, ten-year-old Jonas, who is still very sweet and naïve, offers up his school ruler to use as a splint for the bald man’s broken leg. An old woman on the truck, shocked by the innocence of this boy who has also been branded as a criminal, begins to weep.

Despite the horror and squalor that the deportees will find themselves in for years, they will also exhibit extreme acts of kindness towards one another throughout their struggles. Jonas, who from the start is marked by a sweet disposition, is eager to help in any way he can, despite his young age and small stature. The adults on the bus are shocked by the fact that the NKVD would target small children like Jonas and even a newborn baby—a mark of the NKVD’s refusal to show any kind of mercy or rationality in rounding up people they deem not worthy to be a part of the Soviet Union.

Chapter 7 Quotes

Mother continued to speak in Russian and pulled a pocket watch from her coat. I knew that watch. It was her father’s and had his name engraved in the soft gold on the back. The officer snatched the watch, let go of Jonas, and started yelling at the people next to us.

Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother’s was worth a pocket watch.

Related Characters: Lina Vilkas (speaker), Elena Vilkas, Jonas Vilkas
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

After all of those arrested in Kaunas are loaded onto the truck, the NKVD drive the deportees to a train station where they are forced off the truck. The NKVD then begin to separate families, but Elena is desperate to keep herself, Lina, and Jonas together. She begins to pull valuables out of her coat lining, but the NKVD officer doesn’t seem satisfied by her bribes. In this quote, he finally accepts a beautiful pocket watch that belonged to Elena’s father in exchange for Jonas’ life. Here, Lina is horrified that the officer believes her brother’s life is worth a watch, but also relieved that the bribe worked.

As instructed by Stalin, the NKVD treat the Lithuanian deportees as if they are “fascist pigs,” and truly seek to put them in situations not even fit for livestock. Elena has clearly foreseen the possibility of an arrest, and sews valuables and money into the lining of her coat so that she may use them as bribes and currency. There is no telling what would happen to a young boy separated from his mother and at the mercy of the NKVD. Lina feels conflicted over the fact that Elena gave a watch in exchange for Jonas—she is happy that it worked, but would like to believe her brother is worth so much more. In the NKVD camps, the guards attempt to break down the deportees so that they believe their lives are worthless.

Chapter 11 Quotes

“You’re very brave to have come. You must all stay together. I know you’ll take good care of your sister and mother while I am away.”
“I will, Papa, I promise,” said Jonas. “When will we see you?”
Papa paused. “I don’t know. Hopefully soon.”
I clutched the bundle of clothes. Tears began dropping down my cheeks.
“Don’t cry, Lina. Courage,” said Papa. “You can help me.”
“Do you understand?” My father looked at Andrius, hesitant. “You can help me find you,” he whispered. “I’ll know it’s you…just like you know Munch. But you must be very careful.”

Related Characters: Lina Vilkas (speaker), Jonas Vilkas (speaker), Kostas Vilkas (speaker), Elena Vilkas, Andrius Arvydas
Related Symbols: Drawing
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:

When a train full of men pulls into the station next to Lina’s train, Jonas wakes her and Andrius in the night so that they can go look for their fathers. After much searching, Lina and Jonas eventually find Kostas. He speaks to them through the bathroom hole, and they can see that his face is badly bruised. He gives them food and goods to pass to Elena. In this quote, he urges his children to have courage for his sake so that they may be resilient and persevere. He also hints to Lina that she can use her drawing skills to make distinctive drawings, so that he can trace them back to her and reunite the family.

This is the first and last time that Lina sees Kostas in the novel, outside of memories of him. Kostas and Lina have a very special bond, and he is very supportive of her artistic talent. Elena and Kostas are equal pillars of knowledge and strength in the Vilkas family, and though the two children are grateful for their mother’s presence, they all greatly miss Kostas and wish he were around to support the family as well. Lina will spend much of the novel drawing symbols and markers of what she is going through and where she has been, in the hopes that they will find their way to Kostas and that they will be reunited again some day. These brief words of encouragement follow Lina for years.

Chapter 22 Quotes

The man who wound his watch approached me.
“Do you have a handkerchief I could borrow?” he asked.
I nodded and quickly handed him the hankie, neatly folded to conceal my writing…The man patted his brow with the handkerchief before putting it in his pocket. Pass it along, I thought, imagining the hankie traveling hand to hand until it reached Papa.

Related Characters: Lina Vilkas (speaker), Kostas Vilkas
Related Symbols: Drawing
Page Number: 83
Explanation and Analysis:

After traveling for six weeks in squalor on the train, the deportees are instructed to leave the train cars and exit onto a field. They have no idea where they are, but enjoy the feeling of stretching their legs. In this quote, the man on the train who agreed to pass along Lina’s drawings so that they might reach her father surreptitiously asks her for a handkerchief, and simply does not give it back—suggesting that he will ensure that men keep “lending” it to other men in the hopes that it eventually reaches the camp where Kostas is, and can help Lina and Kostas find each other someday.

In the desperation of the NKVD prison camps, deportees like Lina can only hold onto the hope that they will one day reunite with their loved ones. Though it is extremely unlikely that a handkerchief could make its way across Europe to reunite a father and daughter, it is the only chance Lina has, and her survival depends on her ability to become resilient through her hope. Lina refuses to let the NKVD, Stalin, and the Soviet Union rip her family apart, and she will do whatever it takes to ensure she sees her father again someday.

Chapter 27 Quotes

“Hey, there was blond hair under all that dirt,” said Andrius, reaching out and grabbing a strand of my hair. I shrank back and looked away. Mother put her arm around me.

Related Characters: Andrius Arvydas (speaker), Lina Vilkas
Page Number: 100
Explanation and Analysis:

After they are hauled off of the trucks and fail to be sold to Siberians, the group of deportees is brought to bathhouses where they wash for the first time in weeks. The women are forced to undress in front of the NKVD guards, who leer at them. One guard gropes Lina’s breast, and Elena violently pushes him away. In this quote, Andrius playfully compliments Lina’s appearance now that she has been cleaned, but she flinches from his touch instinctively, since the last man who reached out to touch her did so without consent.

Sexual assault and rape are often used against women in times of war. As a young girl, Lina is particularly vulnerable, and Elena will do anything to protect her daughter from the violence of the guards. Even though Lina finds Andrius kind and attractive, sexual assault can cause PTSD in victims, and Lina flinches from his touch despite the fact that she knows and feels safe with him. Lina doesn’t tell Jonas what happened because she doesn’t want to upset him, and because she is still not sure how to process the assault. Elena knows right away why Lina flinches, however, and she is there to comfort her and silently tell her that she has support.

Chapter 30 Quotes

“Jonas,” said Mother, stroking my brother’s face. “I can’t trust them. Stalin has told the NKVD that Lithuanians are the enemy. The commander and the guards look at us as beneath them. Do you understand?”

Related Characters: Lina Vilkas (speaker), Elena Vilkas (speaker), Jonas Vilkas
Related Symbols: Josef Stalin
Page Number: 115
Explanation and Analysis:

Once they arrive at the labor camp, the NKVD order Elena to go speak to the commander in the barracks. They do not let Jonas and Lina inside the building with her. When Elena emerges, she takes them back to the shack before telling them that the NKVD asked her to help translate Lithuanian into Russian for them. They also wanted her to spy on other deportees for them. In exchange, they promised her preferential treatment.

In this quote, Elena explains to Jonas that it is doubtful that the NKVD would have actually given her extra food or other resources in exchange for acting as a traitor to her own people. She is a prisoner under the NKVD for a reason, and that reason is that they see her a “fascist pig,” less than human, as decreed by Stalin. This wouldn’t change if she put aside her morals to work for them—it would only make her feel worse about her current situation. Here, Elena teaches Lina and Jonas a valuable lesson about preserving their dignity and keeping their heads high, even in the face of incredible adversity.

Chapter 33 Quotes

We began to laugh. It was such a ridiculous sight, grabbing our knees in a circle. We actually laughed.... “Our sense of humor,” said Mother, her eyes pooled with laughing tears. “They can’t take that away from us, right?”

Related Characters: Lina Vilkas (speaker), Elena Vilkas (speaker)
Page Number: 124
Explanation and Analysis:

At the labor camps, the guards put the women to work digging a pit. They don’t give them proper shovels—many of them are missing handles—and it is very difficult to dig in the frozen ground. They are given occasional water breaks, but no food beyond their daily bread ration. It is hard, back-breaking labor. During their water break, the women go relieve themselves in the woods by squatting in a circle. One woman asks Elena to “pass the talcum powder,” causing the women to burst into laughter. In this quote, Elena points out the NKVD can’t take away their sense of humor at least.

The deportees cling to the little joys in life that humans derive from one another—kindness, stories, and jokes—since these are intangible things that even Stalin cannot institute into collective labor camps. Despite the sadness of their journey, the women become friends with each other, and are able to share a laugh in even the bleakest of situations. Lina’s story of the genocide of the Baltic people therefore shows both the most beautiful side of humanity—the deportees’ kindness and generosity—and the ugliest side of humanity—the NKVD’s merciless torture.

Chapter 39 Quotes

“Because they threatened to kill me unless she slept with them. And if they get tired of her, they still might kill me. So how would you feel, Lina, if your mother felt she had to prostitute herself to save your life?

Related Characters: Andrius Arvydas (speaker), Lina Vilkas, Mrs. Arvydas
Page Number: 159
Explanation and Analysis:

One day, Lina sees Mrs. Arvydas serving drinks to the NKVD through the window of the barracks. She realizes that Andrius and Mrs. Arvydas are working for the NKVD. She confronts Andrius about it and, in this quote, he flies into a rage and tells her the truth: the NKVD threatened to kill Andrius if Mrs. Arvydas didn’t agree to sleep with them. Here Andrius reveals that his life is still in danger should the NVKD ever change their minds.

Though Lina and Elena have fortunately not been raped by the guards, Lina was groped by the guard at the bathhouse, and Elena was once accosted by many guards and saved at the very last moment by Kretszky. Like Elena, Mrs. Arvydas would do anything to protect her children, and she is willing to prostitute herself if it means saving Andrius’ life. However, they all know of the arbitrary nature of the NKVD’s decisions—one day, they might decide they don’t want to keep up their end of the bargain anymore, and kill them both. Though Andrius and Mrs. Arvydas live lives that are relatively more comfortable compared to the other deportees, no one would want to trade places with them. Lina is horrified at this revelation, and disgusted with herself for jumping to conclusions.

Chapter 41 Quotes

My art teacher had said that if you breathed deeply and imagined something, you could be there. You could see it, feel it. During our standoffs with the NKVD, I learned to do that. I clung to my rusted dreams during the times of silence. It was at gunpoint that I fell into every hope and allowed myself to wish from the deepest part of my heart. Komorov thought he was torturing us. But we were escaping into a stillness within ourselves. We found strength here.

Related Characters: Lina Vilkas (speaker), Komorov (The Commander)
Related Symbols: Drawing
Page Number: 163
Explanation and Analysis:

Every other night for months, the NKVD wake the deportees in the middle of the night and try to force them to sign documents confessing their “guilt” and agreeing to 25 years of forced labor. Though many deportees do give in and sign the documents—which allows them special privileges in the present, such as going into the nearby town—Lina, Elena, and Jonas do not. In this quote, Lina reveals that she finds a way to meditate and free her mind while she is sitting in quiet, civil disobedience with a gun pointed at her head. It is in these near-death experiences that she finds the most peace within herself, and is most at peace with her situation.

Many deportees refuse to sign, despite the NKVD’s fervent attempts to coerce them into doing so, because then they would be “admitting” to the Soviet Union that they are criminals, and become complicit in their imprisonment. None of them have actually done anything wrong, and as long as they are still under the guard of the NKVD anyway, they see no reason to give up their lives, family, friends, and their dignity, too. Though people call those who end up signing “traitors,” Lina also understands that other people need to make peace with themselves in different ways. Lina channels the teachings of her art teacher in order to endure these difficult times.

Chapter 42 Quotes

Jonas was learning Russian much quicker than I was. He could understand a fair amount of conversation and could even use slang. I constantly asked him to translate. I hated the sound of the Russian language.

Related Characters: Lina Vilkas (speaker), Jonas Vilkas
Page Number: 169
Explanation and Analysis:

In the labor camps, Jonas acclimates to life there much better than Lina does. He works for women who make boots and other supplies out of animal skins, and they come to adore him and his sweet disposition. Jonas is also able to pick up words and phrases of Russian, and begins to learn the language from the women he is working for. Lina constantly asks Jonas to translate, because she is resistant to learning the language of the people she hates.

Lina has always been strong-willed, and refuses to normalize life in the camps. She is deeply patriotic to Lithuania, and clings to her language the way she clings to her memories of home. Although she rationally knows it would be safer for her and her family if she learned the language and could overhear what the NKVD are saying, and potentially bargain with them if need be, she stubbornly refuses to learn out of spite and defiance. To Lina, everything about the NKVD—their names, appearance, and language—stands for evil. They are each just a cog in Stalin’s wheel, and she will resist everything about them to the very best of her ability.

Chapter 47 Quotes

“For I have eaten ashes like bread, and mingled my drink with weeping.
My days are like a shadow that declineth; and I am withered like grass.”

Related Characters: Jonas Vilkas (speaker)
Page Number: 189
Explanation and Analysis:

There is a village near the labor camp with a post office, and those who have signed the documents are allowed to go visit there. Those who have not signed bribe people to send letters for them. One day, Mrs. Rimas receives a letter from her husband. It is in code so that its true meaning is not deciphered by the NKVD. It says that he is in summer camp, which is as described in Psalm 102. Jonas then reads aloud the psalm—and as seen in this excerpt, it is about extreme suffering and starvation.

The deportees are horrified by the arrival of the letter. Though most of them have not had contact with their families, this letter becomes representative of what they might be going through—starvation and suffering, just like they are enduring in the labor camp. They now know that the Soviets are secretly detaining and torturing people all over, in secret locations that the rest of the world knows nothing about. They long for more news of the war, as invasions means there is a chance Stalin can be overthrown and their locations and plight might be exposed to the rest of the world.

Chapter 51 Quotes

I grabbed our family photo and stuffed it up my dress. I would hide it on the way to the kolkhoz office. Kretszky didn’t notice. He stood motionless, holding his rifle, staring at all the photographs.

Related Characters: Lina Vilkas (speaker), Nikolai Kretszky
Related Symbols: Family Photos
Page Number: 208
Explanation and Analysis:

For weeks the deportees plan a Christmas Eve celebration, called a Kucios. In traditional Lithuanian manner, they get together, bringing the little bits of food they have scrimped and saved. They leave one empty spot on the floor to represent those who are not present but who are missed, and put photographs of their family members there. The NKVD interrupt the celebration to order them to the office, hoping to intimidate them into signing the documents. Lina frantically grabs her photograph—it is irreplaceable. In this quote, Kretszky is silent and motionless when he sees the photographs.

Though most of the NKVD officers unwaveringly act as if the deportees really are less than human, Kretszky begins to show signs throughout the novel that he regrets his actions and his place in the NKVD. Here, he is clearly given pause by the sentiment shown by the deportees who greatly miss their family members. As we later learn, Kretszky has had a difficult upbringing: his mother died when he was young, and his stepmother hated him. He longs to help his relatives in Poland, which has been invaded by Germany. Seeing all the deportees miss their relatives makes their plight much more human and much more real to Kretszky, who begins to deeply regret what he has done to them.

Chapter 57 Quotes

I hated that Mother shared with Ulyushka. She had tried to throw Jonas out into the snow when he was sick. She didn’t think twice about stealing from us. She never shared her food. She ate egg after egg, right in front of us. Yet Mother insisted on sharing with her.

Related Characters: Lina Vilkas (speaker), Elena Vilkas, Jonas Vilkas, Ulyushka
Page Number: 225
Explanation and Analysis:

After Lina completes the portrait for the commander, she goes to the kitchen of the NKVD barracks to get the bread and potatoes she is owed. Instead of the officers just handing it to her, they instead throw food, cans, and garbage out onto Lina and Jonas. A can hits Lina on the head and causes a gash. Lina and Jonas bring the food back to Elena as fast as they can, before they are accused of stealing it. In this quote, Elena forces them to share with Ulyushka, despite how much Lina hates her.

Elena consistently teaches Lina and Jonas that it is important to be kind to everyone, no matter how rude they are to her. She operates under the assumption that everyone needs and deserves a helping hand, and Elena recognizes that Ulyushka, too, is suffering hardships under Stalin and the NKVD. Having been ousted from her own home, she imagines it must be difficult to be forced to share her home with complete strangers. Even though Elena does not expect anything in return from Ulyushka, the woman does ultimately repay Elena’s kindness by giving her lots of food and a thick animal hide when the family is relocated.

Chapter 62 Quotes

“Look at me,” whispered Andrius, moving close. “I’ll see you,” he said. “Just think about that. Just think about me bringing you your drawings. Picture it, because I’ll be there.”

Related Characters: Andrius Arvydas (speaker), Lina Vilkas
Related Symbols: Drawing
Page Number: 248
Explanation and Analysis:

One day Andrius comes into Lina’s shack, warning her, Jonas, and Elena that they are on an NKVD list to be relocated. Andrius and his mother, however, are not. Lina and her family do not know where they are being sent or why they are on this list, but they assume it is because they have not signed the documents. Wherever they are going, it is unlikely to be any better than the labor camp. The NKVD come in the morning, while it is still dark, and call names. In this quote, Andrius says goodbye to Lina, and promises her he will keep her drawings safe. He also promises her that they will see each other again some day.

The romance between Lina and Andrius is proof that despite the NKVD’s best efforts, they cannot remove the humanity and the spirit of the deportees. Even though they treat them like animals, they are real human beings whose true love and sacrifice come to light in the worst of conditions. Lina and Andrius fall in love not despite, but perhaps because of the horrors they face together. As Lina goes off into the great unknown, Andrius puts his own life in danger by harboring her drawings, which contain potentially dangerous and subversive images. The idea of seeing Andrius again is something that gets Lina through the worst of times, and the thought of Lina likely helps Andrius through many hardships as well. One of the small miracles of the novel is that, in the end, they do reunite, and get married.

Chapter 64 Quotes

“The Jews are the scapegoat for all of Germany’s problems,” said the bald man. “Hitler’s convinced racial purity is the answer. It’s too complicated for children to understand.”

Related Characters: Mr. Stalas (The Bald Man) (speaker), Jonas Vilkas, Janina
Page Number: 257
Explanation and Analysis:

After the deportees are relocated, they are put on trains again. No one knows where they are going, but many hope and speculate they are going to America. While on the train, Janina asks the bald man if it is true he is a Jew. The bald man says he is, and Janina asks whether he thinks Hitler is killing the Jews. The bald man replies that he knows Hitler is killing the Jews. In this quote, he explains that Germany uses the Jews as a “scapegoat,” or symbol of blame for all of Germany’s problems. Hitler is convinced that Germany’s problems will go away if he achieves “racial purity.”

Though the novel is set in World War II, the isolation of the deportees means that there are only little bits and pieces of news about what is happening in the rest of the world. The revelation that the bald man is a Jew might help to explain his sour disposition—even though he is miserable on the journey and in the camps, he likely has relatives who are in equal or worse states than he is. Here, he also holds an opinion that many of the other adults in the novel perhaps wrongly hold: that things are too difficult for children to understand. Even though Lina, Jonas, Andrius, and Janina are all still children, they have been forced to mature far beyond their years. The adults still want to protect them, but they likely deserve to know all the facts about the true political situation when they ask for them to be explained.

Chapter 66 Quotes

Mother grabbed my arm. Pain shot up into my shoulder. She spoke through clenched teeth. “We don’t know. Do you hear me? We don’t know what he is. He’s a boy. He’s just a boy.” Mother let go of my arm. “And I’m not lying with him,” she spat at Jonas. “How dare you imply such a thing.”

Related Characters: Lina Vilkas (speaker), Elena Vilkas (speaker), Jonas Vilkas, Nikolai Kretszky
Page Number: 264
Explanation and Analysis:

While traveling to their new location, Lina and Jonas notice Elena speaking often to Kretszky, and that she refers to him as “Nikolai.” Jonas becomes angry, as he fears that Elena has been subjected to the same fate as Mrs. Arvydas, and that she must prostitute herself to save their lives. Lina hates Kretszky, and is angry that her mother, always kind, would even have compassion for him. In this quote, Elena is shocked and angry at her children’s accusations. She asserts that Kretszky is “just a boy,” and that she would never, ever sleep with him.

Much of Elena’s strength has come from her love of Kostas, and her desire to be with him again, to make her family whole. She is a very kind but extremely principled woman, and would never stoop to do something she felt compromised her morals. Yet her children also know she would do anything to save them. Later on, Elena explains to Lina that Kretszky saved her when she was nearly raped by a number of NKVD officers. Even though Kretszky has power over the deportees, as Elena points out, he’s just a confused young man who has been swept up into the brute force of the Soviet Union’s secret police. Elena is right to maintain a bond, however tenuous, with one of her prison guards, and she is shocked and angry when her children suggest that her intentions are anything but pure.

Chapter 69 Quotes

“I can’t do this! I won’t die here. I will not let a fox eat us!” Suddenly the woman grabbed Janina by the throat. A thick gurgle came from Janina’s windpipe.
Mother threw herself on Janina’s mother and pried her fingers from her daughter’s neck. Janina caught her breath and began to sob.

Related Characters: Lina Vilkas (speaker), Elena Vilkas, Janina
Page Number: 274
Explanation and Analysis:

When the deportees are told to leave the barge, they find themselves in an even more barren tundra than the one they had been in in the labor camp. They are in the Artic Circle, almost in the North Pole. Unlike the shacks they were previously made to share with the Altaians, here there is no such infrastructure, and the NKVD basically make them fend for themselves in the wild while they build buildings of comparative luxury for the officers. In her desperation over the bleakness of these conditions, Janina’s mother goes mad with fear and tries to take her and Janina’s death into her own hands.

Though a mother’s attempt to kill her daughter may seem like one of the cruelest acts thus far, in context it pales in comparison to the horrors committed by the NKVD every day since the deportees’ arrest. In her manic state, Janina’s mother wants to take control of her and her daughters’ fate by taking it away from the NKVD and into her own hands. She doesn’t want herself and Janina to fall victim to the freezing cold temperatures, rampant diseases, or cruel whims of the NKVD officers. Yet Elena, determined to protect every one of the deportees, luckily wrestles Janina’s mother off of her daughter in time to save them both. She is determined that no one fall victim to the NKVD until it is absolutely too late to save them. Still, her promise that “everything will be fine” falls on somewhat deaf ears in this new, barren tundra.

Chapter 73 Quotes

Joana’s freedom had cost me mine.

Related Characters: Lina Vilkas (speaker), Joana Vilkas
Page Number: 291
Explanation and Analysis:

After the snowstorm, the deportees are immediately sent back to work. They are forced to walk three kilometers in the deep snow to find firewood. On the trek, the bald man demands to wear Lina’s mittens, telling her that he will tell her a secret in exchange. Curious, she complies, and the bald man tells her that her father was arrested because he helped his brother, Petras, and his family repatriate back to his wife’s native Germany. In this quote, Lina realizes that because Kostas helped his brother’s family (including Joana) escape, the NKVD now imprisons her.

Throughout the novel Lina thinks of Joana, whom she has long looked up to, and wishes she were around to talk to. Now, the bald man’s revelations make Lina feel suddenly bitter towards her cousin—because her father helped them escape before finding a new location for his own family, Lina might die, helpless, at the very edge of the world. Though Lina admires her parents’ selflessness and compassion for others, here,she thinks it has gone so far: they have essentially sacrificed their own family to help another. When Lina confronts Elena about why she kept this fact from her, Elena tells her she wanted to protect her, but since Lina has been forced to endure the same trials and tribulations as Elena, she feels that she deserves to know the entire situation surrounding her arrest and the upheaval of her entire life.

Chapter 82 Quotes

“No, I saw it. She was pretty. Krasivaya.”
No. Not that word. I was supposed to learn it on my own. Not from Kretszky.
“It means beautiful, but with strength,” he slurred. “Unique.”

Related Characters: Nikolai Kretszky (speaker), Lina Vilkas, Elena Vilkas, Andrius Arvydas
Page Number: 324
Explanation and Analysis:

After Elena dies, Lina is the sole provider for herself and Jonas. One day, she sneaks behind the NKVD barracks to try and steal some firewood—but Kretszky is there, and he is drunk. Though Lina is afraid he is going to report her for stealing the wood, he reveals that he is sad about the loss of Elena, and he tells Lina about the death of his own mother when he was young. In this quote, he tells Lina that he thought Elena was special—“krasivaya.” This is the same word that Andrius tells Lina he believes applies to her, but that he wants her to find the translation for herself. Lina, who hates Kreszky with a passion, is horrified that she finds out what the word means from him.

In the novel, the traditional patriarchal gender roles are flipped when the men are separated from the women, children, and infirm, and the women are allowed to show their true strength and resilience. This kind of strength is suppressed in domestic life, where women are generally expected to carry out certain duties and keep their opinions to themselves. Indeed, Kostas’ protective view that Lina should not have opinions about the Soviet Union is a part of this suppression, however good his intentions are. Ironically, in the prisons of the NKVD in the Siberian tundra, Lina and Elena are allowed to let their true strength and inner beauty flourish without internal patriarchal suppression. Even Kretszky, an NKVD officer who has meted out his own fair share of torture, sees that both women have an astounding inner strength that helped them to survive. Though Elena has passed, Lina carries on her strength and grace—her krasivaya.

Chapter 84 Quotes

“Dr. Samodurov, how did you find us?” I asked him.
“Nikolai Kretszky,” was all he said.

Related Characters: Dr. Samodurov (speaker), Lina Vilkas, Nikolai Kretszky
Page Number: 334
Explanation and Analysis:

Dr. Samodurov is shocked to find the deportees in the state of squalor that they are living in. He enlists the help of the relatively strong deportees to help prepare food and supplies to nurse the sick back to help. Even the bald man chips in, and insists that Janina and Jonas are the first to be treated. Dr. Samodurov calls in warm clothing and shoes to help them get through the rest of winter. Eventually, after ten days, he must leave to go help the next camp. In this quote, Lina asks him how he knew to come help them. All he will say is, “Nikolai Kretszky.”

Kretszky’s behavior leaves hints throughout the novel that he is beginning to regret complying with the torturous acts of the NKVD. He takes pause when he sees the photographs of the deportees’ families, saves Elena from gang rape, mourns for her death, occasionally looks the other way when he sees Lina stealing the resources she desperately needs, and eventually defects from camp to report the horrors inside. Though Lina is confused and angry with herself for comforting Kretszky when he is drunk and crying about both the death of his own mother and of Elena, it is this small act of respect and compassion that inspires Kreszky to leave the camp and thus saves many lives. As Elena has always taught Lina, it is important to lend a hand of kindness, even to those who don’t seem as if they want or deserve it. Ultimately, it is this lesson that helps Lina and Jonas survive, even if Elena’s selflessness arguably leads to her own death.

Chapter 85 Quotes

I closed my eyes. I felt Andrius moving close. “I’ll see you,” he said.
“Yes, I will see you,” I whispered. “I will.”
I reached into my pocket and squeezed the stone.

Related Characters: Andrius Arvydas
Related Symbols: Andrius’ Stone
Page Number: 274
Explanation and Analysis:

After Dr. Samodurov leaves, Jonas and Janina eventually begin to heal. Lina is also given new hope that Kostas might be alive, after the doctor tells her that he theorizes Ivanov might have been lying to Elena for sport. Lina then sees a sliver of sunlight on the horizon: the end of the polar night is in sight. They have survived the winter. Furthermore, Lina is given new hope that she might actually see Andrius again. In this quote, she imagines he is with her. She squeezes the stone for comfort, and hopes to see him again someday.

The romance of Lina and Andrius is one of the most touching and human aspects of the novel. Despite the inhumane hardships and suffering they endure, they find beauty in one another, and are able to bond over their admiration of one another’s strength. Before she leaves the first labor camp, Andrius promises Lina that he will see her again one day. He urges her to imagine him returning her drawings to her—they are a kind of collateral for their eventual reunion. The thought of someone to live for gives Lina strength and hope in even the most extreme conditions, and the thought of Lina likely does the same for Andrius. Their love, and the deportees’ continued grace and support for one another, shows that even in the most desperate situations, love and human compassion prevails, despite the desperate attempts of evil to squash these very human traits.

Epilogue Quotes

It is my greatest hope that the pages in this jar stir your deepest well of human compassion. I hope they prompt you to do something, to tell someone. Only then can we ensure that this kind of evil is never allowed to repeat itself.

Related Characters: Lina Vilkas (speaker)
Page Number: 338
Explanation and Analysis:

In the epilogue, construction workers discover a jar full of writings in 1995 while digging in Kaunas, Lithuania. This initial letter, written by Lina, explains that these writings describe the horrors of the Baltic genocide. They were buried on July 9, 1954. In this quote, Lina explains that there are horrible descriptions in the letters, but she does not intend to shock or disgust—only to inspire compassion and empathy. She wants the horror elicited in the reader to compel them to go tell someone, to help fight for this to never happen again.

While the plot of the novel ends after Dr. Samodurov leaves the camp, the reader is left unsure as to exactly what happens to Lina. This letter reveals that she eventually married Andrius, and survived the labor camps. One small miracle of the novel is that Lina and Andrius reunite and that Andrius has saved all her drawings and writings. Together, they bury these precious documents so that someday, someone will know what happened, and prevent it from happening again—their suffering will not be in vain. The continued rise of the Soviet Union after World War II meant that survivors of the Baltic genocide, unlike survivors of the Holocaust under defeated Germany, were not allowed to speak about their suffering. Thus, Lina’s letters carry extremely important historical significance.

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