Friday, 30 November 2018

Book review : Shadows on the Tundra – Dalia Grinkeviciute

You can tell my internet has been down for the last couple of weeks from the number of book reviews popping up on my blog this week !

Shadows on the Tundra is another piece of powerful foreign literature, chosen by Pereine as a part of their Home In Exile series. The book relates the extraordinary tale of 14-year-old Dalia Grinkeviciute, who was bundled into a train in 1941 along with her family and deported from their native Lithuania to a barren labour camp in the frozen wastes of Siberia.

Amazingly, Dalia wrote her story as memoirs on scraps of paper that she buried in a glass jar in her garden, fearing that they might be discovered by the KGB. This was not the case though, and her reminders of times past were discovered four years after her death, in 1991.

Dalia seems to be incredibly strong, both physically and mentally, and survives in reasonable spirits the extremely tough 16-hour sessions of manual labour in her frigid home. There is very little food but Dalia and her family appear to largely avoid the scurvy and other illnesses that frequently cripple and ultimately kill off a large proportion of the population. Moving to a new job in a fish factory provides a new and seemingly endless opportunity for getting her hands on fish, and this undoubtedly allows her family to survive in relatively good health.

Unlike the well-known tales of life in concentration camps that included incredible cruelty and violence, the biggest dangers in the Lithuanian camps are the weather and the cold, and many of the inhabitants who survive lose limbs or toes to frostbite. The text is incredibly powerful and heartwarming – Dalia’s only desire is to survive and to hep her family survive - and it is very hard to get your head around the fact that this is a first-person recollection of actual events, rather than some made-up, imagined narrative.

After the war, at the age of 21, Dalia escaped the Gulag and returned to Lithuania, where she wrote her secret memoirs. Surprisingly, I found the writing to be life-affirming and positive, with a real sense of survival and fighting all the odds to exist and thrive in extremely harsh surroundings.

Star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £12 (currently £10.07 on amazon)

  • Paperback: 196 pages
  • Publisher: Peirene Press Ltd (15 Jun. 2018)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1908670444
  • ISBN-13: 978-1908670441

Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.


  1. How sad that the author didn't have her memoirs discovered until she died. Such a tragic story, but also life-affirming. It reminds me of the old film from the 1980s, a love story set in Latvia, where the main character is sent to Siberia with her son.


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