A Nashville Cross of the Knight

YA novelist Ruta Sepetys has received a medal from the Lithuanian government for contributions to literature and education

by Margaret Renkl

July 12, 2013 Even before Between Shades of Gray hit shelves, it was obvious that Ruta Sepetys's debut novel was about to take the literary world by storm. Earning four starred reviews—one from every pre-publication review site in the country—is practically unheard of, even for veteran novelists. Between Shades of Gray, pronounced Kirkus, "deserves the widest possible readership."

As it turned out, "widest possible readership" is an understated way of putting it. The novel, which tells the story of fifteen-year-old Lina, deported from her home in Lithuania to a series of Siberian gulags during Stalin’s reign of terror, earned rhapsodic reviews and made best-of lists around the media, including at both The New York Times Book Review and The New York Times. And that was just in hardcover. Since then, the book has won an almost uncountable number of awards and has found its way into print in twenty-six languages and forty-three countries.

Besides launching Sepetys's writing career into the stratosphere, Between Shades of Gray also brought a shadowy part of European history—Stalin's systematic efforts at ethnic cleansing in the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia—into the light. A year ago, in gratitude for the way the book has raised awareness of the nation's suffering during the aftermath of World War II, the prime minister of Lithuania presented Sepetys with a Patriot Award.

At the Presidential Palace in Vilnius last weekend, the president of Lithuania went the prime minister one better and conferred on Sepetys the honor of "Cross of the Knight of the Order." (The Order for Merits to Lithuania contain five classes in ascending order: Knight, Officer, Commander, Grand Commander, and Grand Cross.) A golden book is attached to the medal Sepetys received in connection with the recognition. "It is an indescribable honor," Sepetys said at the ceremony. "As writers, we try to give voice to those who will never have a chance to tell their story. My goal is that through studying these tragic parts of history we can learn from them, and create hope for a more just future."

To see photos from the parade and ceremony, visit Sepetys's Facebook page here. To read more of Chapter 16's extensive coverage of Between Shades of Gray—and a review of Sepetys's subsequent novel, Out of the Easy—click here.

Published Thursday, 11 July 2013