Between Shades of Gray

Between Shades of Gray

Elena Vilkas Character Analysis

Elena Vilkas is Lina’s mother, and is still a woman in the prime of her life when she is deported from her home in Lithuania. Though she is a homemaker and relies on Kostas’ income from the university to support the family, Elena was sent to Moscow for her schooling and is considered highly educated. Elena’s intelligence is revealed throughout the novel: she is shrewd in her handling of the NKVD guards, furthered by her fluency in Russian, and is intensely kind and caring towards the other passengers. More than once, she saves the lives of her children and of other deportees by bargaining with the guards using valuables she has hidden in the lining of her coat. Ultimately, Elena perishes due to her own generosity—during the polar winter in Siberia, she gives away most of her bread rations, leading to physical weakness, illness, and her untimely death. Her family, the other deportees, and even one of the NKVD guards, Nikolai Kretszky, mourn her deeply. It is ultimately the loss of Elena that leads Kretszky to understand the gravity of the genocide and defect from the camp to alert others of the horrors occurring.

Elena Vilkas Quotes in Between Shades of Gray

The Between Shades of Gray quotes below are all either spoken by Elena Vilkas or refer to Elena Vilkas. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Morality, Integrity, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer 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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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Elena Vilkas Character Timeline in Between Shades of Gray

The timeline below shows where the character Elena Vilkas appears in Between Shades of Gray. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Women and Mothers Theme Icon
...of the Soviet Union. They demand that Lina, her 10-year-old brother Jonas, and her mother Elena leave immediately. Though Elena begs to have until morning to gather their possessions, the officers... (full context)
Chapter 2
Morality, Integrity, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Strength and Identity Theme Icon
Women and Mothers Theme Icon
As Elena frantically packs necessities, Lina tries to come to terms with the fact that she, her... (full context)
Women and Mothers Theme Icon
Jonas, not understanding the gravity of the situation, misconstrues Elena’s instructions to get ready to leave. He enters Lina’s room dressed and ready for school.... (full context)
Morality, Integrity, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Strength and Identity Theme Icon
A fresh loaf of bread on her desk that Elena has asked her to pack reminds Lina of a conversation she had at the local... (full context)
Chapter 3
Genocide Theme Icon
Women and Mothers Theme Icon
Elena packs Jonas a massive suitcase, one that is almost the size of his small body.... (full context)
Chapter 4
Morality, Integrity, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Strength and Identity Theme Icon
Genocide Theme Icon
Women and Mothers Theme Icon
The NKVD officers march Lina, Elena, and Jonas out of their home and through the dark night. Lina notices a neighbor,... (full context)
Strength and Identity Theme Icon
Genocide Theme Icon
Women and Mothers Theme Icon
A bald man starts moaning and saying that they are all going to die. Elena insists this is nonsense, but the bald man, convinced, jumps out of the truck in... (full context)
Chapter 5
Genocide Theme Icon
Women and Mothers Theme Icon
In an italicized flashback, Lina remembers another time Elena was wringing her hands. Elena asked Lina to bring a pot of coffee to Kostas... (full context)
Chapter 6
Morality, Integrity, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Strength and Identity Theme Icon
Genocide Theme Icon
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A man on the truck, who worked for the bank, gives Elena his jacket to keep the woman warm. She tells Elena her name is Ona, and... (full context)
Chapter 7
Morality, Integrity, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Strength and Identity Theme Icon
Genocide Theme Icon
Women and Mothers Theme Icon
...She wonders where her father is, and an officer tries to pull Jonas away from Elena and Lina. Panicked, Elena takes a variety of money and baubles from her coat, and... (full context)
Chapter 8
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Strength and Identity Theme Icon
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Elena comforts her children, shaken by the near-loss of Jonas. Miss Grybas tells them to hurry... (full context)
Chapter 9
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Strength and Identity Theme Icon
Women and Mothers Theme Icon
...is extremely overcrowded. Shelves, six feet deep, have been installed, presumably to stack people on. Elena and Miss Grybas observe that all the men are gone—only elderly, infirm men are a... (full context)
Strength and Identity Theme Icon
Women and Mothers Theme Icon
...a photographer during a family photo. She recalls the beautiful clothing and jewelry she and Elena wear, and how the photographer noted that Lina looks just like Kostas. (full context)
Chapter 10
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Strength and Identity Theme Icon
Genocide Theme Icon
Women and Mothers Theme Icon
Andrius’ mother tells Elena that she had to bribe and tell the NKVD that Andrius is mentally disabled in... (full context)
Chapter 11
Strength and Identity Theme Icon
Women and Mothers Theme Icon
As the sun begins to set, people share the food they have brought with them. Elena asks Lina for the loaf of bread, but Lina shakes her head—she left it in... (full context)
Morality, Integrity, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Strength and Identity Theme Icon
Genocide Theme Icon
...tears it into quarters, giving some to Jonas and Andrius and saving the rest for Elena. (full context)
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Strength and Identity Theme Icon
The Power of Art Theme Icon
Genocide Theme Icon
Kostas then gives Lina his wedding ring and tells her to give it to Elena in case she needs to sell it. Kostas tells his children to have courage, and... (full context)
Chapter 12
Morality, Integrity, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Strength and Identity Theme Icon
Women and Mothers Theme Icon
...hole and merely jumped out to grab it. He searches them, and lets them go. Elena is upset with them, but relieved they found Kostas. When Lina gives her the ring,... (full context)
Chapter 13
Genocide Theme Icon
...like animal feed, and some children refuse to eat it. Jonas finds the package from Elena’s cousin Regina, and Elena splits the food inside among the other passengers. Ona’s baby refuses... (full context)
Chapter 17
Morality, Integrity, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Strength and Identity Theme Icon
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Women and Mothers Theme Icon
As Elena combs Lina’s wet hair in the darkened car, Lina admits she wanted to run away.... (full context)
Chapter 18
Morality, Integrity, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Strength and Identity Theme Icon
The Power of Art Theme Icon
Genocide Theme Icon
Women and Mothers Theme Icon
...days of rolling along, the train stops opposite another train, this one full of men. Elena speaks to them in Russian, and learns that they are soldiers—the USSR is at war... (full context)
Chapter 19
Morality, Integrity, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Strength and Identity Theme Icon
The Power of Art Theme Icon
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Women and Mothers Theme Icon
...stop, and they are silently grateful that someone has said something to the bald man. Elena takes the baby from Ona, promising not to give it to the guards and to... (full context)
Chapter 20
Morality, Integrity, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Genocide Theme Icon
Women and Mothers Theme Icon
...teaches him Russian slang words that the NKVD use and gives him his first cigarette. Elena tells Lina she is grateful that Jonas has Andrius as a friend and male role... (full context)
Chapter 21
Morality, Integrity, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Strength and Identity Theme Icon
The Power of Art Theme Icon
Genocide Theme Icon
Women and Mothers Theme Icon
...they are thieves and prostitutes. Small bits of goodness mark the travel, such as when Elena bribes a guard to let her leave the train to go to a kiosk. She... (full context)
Chapter 22
Strength and Identity Theme Icon
The Power of Art Theme Icon
...privacy. The next morning, the guards tell them it is time to leave the car. Elena reminds Jonas and Lina to stay close to her. She attempts to make them presentable... (full context)
Morality, Integrity, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Strength and Identity Theme Icon
The Power of Art Theme Icon
Genocide Theme Icon
...does not recognize them, but notes that their skin and hair are darker than hers. Elena listens to the conversations in Russian, and translates that the NKVD are selling the passengers... (full context)
Chapter 23
Genocide Theme Icon
...look at all of the deportees. When they arrive at Lina’s group, Mrs. Arvydas begs Elena to tell them in Russian that Andrius is a simpleton. Elena tells them, and they... (full context)
Chapter 25
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Strength and Identity Theme Icon
The Power of Art Theme Icon
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...away, mostly because they are exhausted. The NKVD eat and drink late into the night. Elena tells Lina they are discussing their families back home, but Lina doesn’t believe her. Ona... (full context)
Chapter 26
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Elena translates that ten people will go and bathe at a time. The women undress as... (full context)
Chapter 27
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The guards toss soap at the women and spray them with icy water. Elena helps Lina and Ona wash. Then they leave the bathhouse and get dressed. Lina whispers... (full context)
Chapter 28
Strength and Identity Theme Icon
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Women and Mothers Theme Icon
...into the shacks, though they quickly realize there are already people living in them. Lina, Elena, and Jonas are assigned to a run-down shack where an Altaian woman is already living—and... (full context)
Chapter 29
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...is run-down and there is nowhere for the family to sleep or use the bathroom. Elena assures them that a little cleaning will spruce things up. Suddenly, a blond NKVD officer... (full context)
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In a flashback, Lina remembers Elena briefly leaving a dress shop while Lina’s new dress is being tailored. Lina meets her... (full context)
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Back in the camp, Jonas frets that he and Lina should have followed Elena into the building. Lina peers through a window and sees Elena talking to the commander,... (full context)
Chapter 30
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Back in the shack, Elena tells Jonas and Lina that the NKVD wanted her to work for them, translating documents... (full context)
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The Power of Art Theme Icon
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...through her belongings, and takes out the picture frame with the photo of her family. Elena sees it and expresses her happiness that Lina brought the photo. Lina sees the tablet... (full context)
Chapter 31
Women and Mothers Theme Icon
...the family asks her how they can get food, they are told they must work. Elena must pay the woman for one potato, and then again to be allowed to cook... (full context)
Strength and Identity Theme Icon
The Power of Art Theme Icon
...flashback, Lina remembers receiving her acceptance letter for the art school in Vilnius. Kostas and Elena are elated on her behalf, and Lina can’t wait to tell Joana. The family has... (full context)
Chapter 32
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Strength and Identity Theme Icon
The Power of Art Theme Icon
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Women and Mothers Theme Icon
...notes that she is picking up words and phrases of Russian. Jonas is separated from Elena and Lina for work. Lina and Elena are then brought to a clearing in the... (full context)
Chapter 33
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Strength and Identity Theme Icon
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...a circle to use the bathroom. They laugh, and enjoy the feeling of a joke. Elena says that the NKVD cannot take their sense of humor away from them. (full context)
Chapter 34
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Lina draws in the dirt with a stick before heading to work the next day. Elena tells Jonas and Lina that they must begin to prepare for a harsh winter, even... (full context)
Chapter 35
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Elena insists that Lina take a bread ration to the bald man. Jonas finds straw for... (full context)
Morality, Integrity, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
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...careful what she writes. Lina misses privacy. Andrius gives her three cigarettes for Jonas and Elena, and seems cagey when Lina asks him about his mother, quickly saying that he has... (full context)
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Lina gives the cigarettes to Elena and passes along Andrius’ hello. The Altaian woman demands the cigarettes as payment, and Elena... (full context)
Chapter 36
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...has portraits of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin on the walls. The commander says (through Elena’s translation) that the deportees have been brought in to sign a document saying they agree... (full context)
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...but no one does. Those who fall asleep are beaten. The commander goes up to Elena and spits something slimy into her face. Elena quickly brushes it off, but Lina is... (full context)
Chapter 37
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At sunrise the deportees are sent back to work. Lina, Jonas, and Elena clean up and head to work. As they walk to the pit, they see the... (full context)
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...put their hands on their heads and to lie down as he circles the hole. Elena tells Lina she loves her as Mrs. Rimas starts to recite a prayer. The commander... (full context)
Chapter 38
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When Lina and Elena return to the shack, they are noticeably shaken but don’t tell Jonas why. Jonas reveals... (full context)
Chapter 39
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...potatoes Lina wonders aloud if the NKVD will wake them again to sign the papers. Elena notes that Andrius gave them bread to eat with the soup they make. Lina scoffs... (full context)
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...bring food to the bald man each day. Eventually Jonas agrees to do it, and Elena insists they go together. Andrius meets them there and gives them salami. Lina is rude... (full context)
Chapter 40
Women and Mothers Theme Icon
Back in the shack, Elena chastises Lina for resisting Andrius’ attempts at friendship. She notes that Kostas was quite clumsy... (full context)
Chapter 41
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...on, the NKVD push the deportees harder and reduce their bread rations if they stumble. Elena becomes alarmingly thin and Lina is so dehydrated that she cannot cry. Every other night... (full context)
Chapter 42
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Using sterling silver serving pieces from her wedding, Elena bribes a grouchy woman who has signed the documents, and the woman agrees to post... (full context)
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...They argue whether Stalin or Hitler is worse. Worried about her daughter overhearing upsetting things, Elena orders Lina to go to her room. Bored by their politics anyway, she goes to... (full context)
Chapter 43
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...two cigarettes in exchange for a copy of a map and photograph. Lina volunteers, despite Elena’s warnings. Kretzsky will not let Elena accompany her. When Lina is brought to the NKVD... (full context)
Chapter 45
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...yells at her and leaves the shack with pen and paper. Drawing calms her down. Elena returns from meeting the grouchy woman who has posted her letters. Soon, the NKVD round... (full context)
Chapter 46
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Elena learns that the name of the village is Turaciak. In order to check for mail,... (full context)
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...the camp. Even as it gets colder, the NKVD push the deportees harder. They force Elena to teach a class of Altaian and Lithuanian children. Only the children of people who... (full context)
Chapter 48
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...boy soon begins to slip into unconsciousness. Worried that the sickness is contagious, Ulyushka tells Elena to take Jonas outside into the snow. Elena refuses and yells back at Ulyushka until... (full context)
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...a lawyer comes to the shack and announces that Jonas has scurvy and needs vitamins. Elena rushes out of the shack to beg the other deportees for food for Jonas. Andrius... (full context)
Chapter 49
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Elena asks Andrius to stay with Lina and Jonas. Andrius looks mad, and Lina tries to... (full context)
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...and jokes about the perspective—as Lina is shorter than him, she drew him from below. Elena returns and thanks Andrius for staying. Neither Elena nor Lina can sleep for worry about... (full context)
Chapter 50
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Two weeks later, Jonas has nearly improved but is still weak. Lina and Elena are weaker than usual, since they have been giving their bread rations to Jonas. The... (full context)
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...one would want to trade places with her. Someone produces a bottle of vodka, and Elena calls for a toast to good friends. That night, Lina fantasizes about Kostas joining them... (full context)
Chapter 52
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The deportees are worked hard on Christmas Day. Elena gives Ulyushka a packet of cigarettes for Christmas. Lina gives Andrius a drawing of him,... (full context)
Chapter 53
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...shack, saying that the NKVD are looking for her. Lina reveals she stole a pen. Elena is alarmed, but Andrius clarifies that the commander wants Lina to draw his portrait. Lina... (full context)
Chapter 56
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Lina tells Jonas to run ahead and tell Elena they’re safe while she tells Andrius she has stolen the file. She asks him to... (full context)
Chapter 57
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Lina, Elena, and Jonas eat all the food quickly in case the NKVD came back for it.... (full context)
Chapter 59
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The Siberian tundra begins to thaw, and the snow turns to slush. Elena receives a letter from her housekeeper’s cousin, which reveals in coded words that Kostas is... (full context)
Chapter 60
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...moved, and that while he is not on the list for relocation, Lina, Jonas, and Elena are. Lina runs to tell Elena, who optimistically theorizes that they are perhaps going someplace... (full context)
Chapter 61
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Andrius comes to the shack and speaks to Elena privately, and then asks to speak to Lina. They take a walk together, and discuss... (full context)
Chapter 62
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...Ulyushka gives the family food for the journey, as well as a thick animal hide. Elena tries to hug her, but she pushes her away and stomps out. Mrs. Rimas, a... (full context)
Chapter 64
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...moves on, the sick girl—who appears very yellow—becomes sicker, and coughs up blood on Jonas. Elena rips off Jonas’ shirt and throws it down the bathroom hole, even though they are... (full context)
Chapter 65
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...The passengers are herded into a huge building, but when they get off the train, Elena collapses, and others quickly help her up. She sees Kretszky and greets him as “Nikolai.”... (full context)
Chapter 66
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...slat of wood with the hopes it will reach Kostas. One day, when Lina and Elena wade into the river, Jonas worriedly tells them to cover up since the guards are... (full context)
Chapter 69
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...for the cold and darkness. Janina’s mother, going mad with despair, tries to strangle Janina. Elena forces her off of the girl and Mrs. Rimas slaps the woman across the face... (full context)
Chapter 71
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...Lina’s mouth water—as the deportees are forced to carry the supplies to the NKVD barracks. Elena asks the man to stop translating the words, since she can’t bear to know what... (full context)
Chapter 72
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...themselves. Jonas and Lina set off to steal some of the wood. They notice that Elena is getting weaker, and realize she has been giving them her rations—starving herself to feed... (full context)
Chapter 73
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...demands that Lina give him her mittens in exchange for information. He tells Lina that Elena knows why she was deported, and it is because of her uncle, Petras Vilkas. Since... (full context)
Chapter 74
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Lina confronts Elena about why the family was deported. Elena says that they were planning to help Lina’s... (full context)
Chapter 75
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November comes, and Elena grows more despondent. The family pray for Kostas, and this is the only time Elena... (full context)
Chapter 76
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...is too upset even to do the thing she loves. The storm rages on, and Elena grows even weaker. Still, she insists on shoveling snow from the entrance to the hut.... (full context)
Chapter 78
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...the winter. While they freeze and starve, the guards enjoy sumptuous food and warm fires. Elena becomes even weaker. The lice bring typhus, and the man who repeats words quarantines himself... (full context)
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...left and right. Mrs. Rimas says all they can do is pray. In the jurta, Elena tells Lina to apologize to Kretszky for saying she hated him. Elena reveals that he... (full context)
Chapter 79
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...the day. Lina is determined not to lose her mother. Fearing she is near death, Elena gives her wedding band to Jonas. Lina and Jonas hold their mother, desperately willing her... (full context)
Chapter 80
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On January 5th, Jonas holds Elena throughout the morning, while Mrs. Rimas tries to feed her. She cannot eat or speak.... (full context)
Chapter 81
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...that night, distraught over her the loss of her mother. She lies down next to Elena’s body, and contemplates what the bald man said about it being “hard to die,” but... (full context)
Chapter 82
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...who is drinking behind the NKVD barracks. Slurring, he tells her that he could tell Elena used to be pretty—“krasivaya.” He tells Lina that the word means “beautiful, but with strength.”... (full context)