Themes

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One theme of Between Shades of Gray is the futility and nihilism of war narratives. Expressed most directly in the stories about the bleak concentration camps which Lina Vilkas passes through, the NKVD try to strong-arm the adoption of a failing political agenda at the cost of unimaginable suffering, terrorizing or cutting short many untold narratives that could have otherwise flourished.

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Another theme is the impossibility of accurately reporting or fully empathizing with the suffering subject. In the novel, Lima struggles to understand why certain other residents of the camps behave the ways they do, often seeming to imperil or demoralize themselves. At points, she gathers new insights and uses them to revise her perspectives and judgments, such as that of Andrius's mother, who she accused of working for the Soviets only to find that she was prostituting herself to protect her son. After realizing she is embedded in this perpetual process of revision, Lima arrives at the conclusion that one can never totally understand anyone else.

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Characters