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You have probably heard the term, “the pen is mightier than the sword.”
It is something many have wished to be true in real time; that we could somehow write our way out of trouble, avoiding the major conflicts which have defined humanity so negatively. History has taught us the opposite more than once; a cruel reality.
In reading horrific stories of yesterday something occurred to me recently. No matter how cruel the oppressor the story manages to survive. Usually it is a matter of not being able to kill all witnesses. Maybe a participant in history eventually decides to let the story escape in a vain attempt to ease a conscience. Whatever the reason, the story somehow gets told.
Does this make the pen mightier than the sword? Maybe, maybe not. At a minimum it provides a salient lesson for future tyrants of humanity; the pen will always find a way to tell your story. There are so many examples, especially when it comes to Nazi Germany. A few novels have surfaced recently which enhance this point. Winter of The World by Ken Follett, Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.
Though all three novels are works of fiction, each provides a level of real truth. Between Shades of Gray is an attempt to accurately portray true events. Winter of The World and The Book Thief provide a truth that cannot be over told. All three remind us that the cruelty of the German Nazis and the Russian Communists knew no bounds. Even if you are a well-versed student of those times I highly recommend you read these novels.
Winter of The World reminds us that liberators can be oppressors in hiding. In this novel we learn many German citizens lived in poverty and fear. As the war neared its conclusion, it become obvious to the citizens that Germany was losing. The hope of liberation surfaced. For many, liberation became a cold disappointment in the face of Russian brutality.
The Book Thief teaches us even the harshest environments can spawn a gentle soul. In this story you become a witness to the edge of cruelty through the eyes of innocence. The manner in which this story is told, and the subject it reminds us of, might place Markus Zusak’s book in rarefied air.
Between Shades of Gray will teach you why Lithuanians, as well as the Ukraine for similar reasons, will hate Russians for generations to come. This novel takes human suffering to a level that should never be witnessed, much less experienced. Is Ruta Sepetys a story-teller on par with the greatest authors? I will leave that to the literary community. This book is simply a story that had to be told, and one that should be read.
It would be wonderful to declare the inevitable “resurfacing of the pen” a deterrent to future kings of cruelty. Life and history lead me to believe different. But I attain a small amount of satisfaction in knowing the story will eventually be told. At a minimum, the cruelest oppressors will be judged by literature.
Though the pen may not be mightier than the sword, it has power no tyrant can defeat.