Cold Horror from Ashes in the Snow

by The Cowl Editor on January 24, 2019

Arts & Entertainment

Film Adaptation of Successful War Novel Falls Short

by: Anne DeLello ’20 A&E Staff

Ashes in the Snow movie still

Sometimes the book is better than the movie. This past week the movie, Ashes in the Snow, premiered, based on the book, Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. Set in the Soviet Union during World War II, the novel is told from the perspective of a teenage Lithuanian girl named Lina. The story follows Lina, her brother Jonas, and their mother, Elena, after they are taken prisoner by soldiers for supposedly committing crimes against the Soviet Union. From then on, they live a life of uncertainty and fear as they are shuffled from one prison camp to the next in Siberia. 

While Between Shades of Gray is a young adult novel, the story of a family’s struggle to stay alive and stay together is an emotional read that people of all ages can enjoy. The book is a No. 1 New York Times bestseller and has received international acclaim. The Washington Post declared, “Few books are beautifully written, fewer still are important; this novel is both.” The  Post’s review of the novel rings true, especially in the descriptions of life in Siberia which are so vivid that at times it is frightening to read. It is difficult not to get emotional while reading about Lina’s experience while in the prison camps, where she was surrounded by death, disease, and the cruelty of the Soviet soldiers in command of the camps. 

Throughout the book, Lina struggles with her hatred of those who keep her prisoner, especially coming to grips with the ignorance of the outside world and the injustice manifested in the innocent people who were either being worked to death or being shot by the Soviets. Lina channels her emotions through her drawings which help her express the horrors she experiences daily. These drawings also give her hope of alerting the world to what she and so many others endured. 

However, the movie, Ashes in the Snow, did not live up to the expectations set by the novel according to critics. Rotten Tomatoes continued the disappointed sentiments by giving the movie a 5.4 rating out of 10. 

The New York Times did seek out the positive in the movie when they commented on the “few powerful images.” The review cites an early scene where “Lina draws on a fogged window before seeing the headlights of approaching officers through the glass. Aboard the train to the first camp, Elena separates a grieving mother from the corpse of an infant that has died.” According to the review, these images caught the attention of viewers as the “sheer horror stands out from a largely undifferentiated slog.” While Between Shades of Gray proved to be more successful in its novel form, the heart-wrenching story of Lina and her family struggling to survive still made an impact on the big screen.