In Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, we are introduced to a young, wild Louie Zamperini, who stole anything that wasn’t nailed down (especially food) and loved to play practical jokes that had a way of spinning out of control. There didn’t seem to be anyone or anything in his small California town that could rein him in. Based on Zamperini’s many encounters with local police officers, it appeared that he was headed for a life of lawlessness…until he discovered the joy of running.
Zamperini's older brother first recognized his talent and convinced him to start training as a runner in high school. Race after race Zamperini blew away the competition, breaking records and setting new ones right and left. Eventually, he ended up going to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin where he performed well and even shook hands with Hitler. He had his sights set on a gold medal at the 1940 Olympics when something occurred that changed the course of his life forever: World War II.
We are all very familiar with the atrocities engineered by Adolph Hitler, but less is heard about the atrocities that occurred at the direction of Joseph Stalin. Twenty million people were murdered under his leadership. In the book Between the Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys gives a very compelling account of the Soviet invasion of the country of Lithuania in 1941. Lists of people who were considered enemies of the state were compliled, and these people were removed from their homes and workplaces. These people were often professors, teachers, writers, artists, and librarians. The men were sent to prison and the women and children to forced labor camps--some of which were located in Siberia and the Arctic Circle. These individuals were separated from family members and forced to live under extremely harsh conditions with none of the comforts of home. They were not given food or medical attention. The women and children were shoved into railroad cars and sent away without ever being told where they were going.
The main character in this book is named Lina. She, her mother, and her younger brother are removed by force from their home and sent to Siberia. In Siberia, which is harsh enough to begin with, they have to scrounge for anything to eat. Even one potato becomes a luxury for the prisoners. Beets become a treat. The prisoners are forced to dig with shovels which have no handles, and they sleep on the freezing cold floor of a shack.