In the beginning of the novel, in 1941, an abounding number of people are forced to cram into cattle cars in which were eventually driven to Siberia. Comparing the novel to reality, both display a clear view of how harsh the conditions were in the cattle cars from the lack of food and water, to the strict demands and threats addressed by the officers. While generally being driven to Siberia, groups of people were sold, beaten, and killed along the way. Through these severe circumstances, Lina, her brother Jonas, and their mother Elena try their best to stay strong through their many hardships in this journey, " 'Where are they taking us?' I asked. 'To Siberia I think.' Siberia? That couldn't be right. Siberia was half a world away" (Sepetys, 43). Like in historical reality, Russian officers took multiple cattle cars filled with people to locations around the world including Siberia.
Although Lina, Jonas, and Elena did not have major cultural traditions or cultural beliefs, they continued to strive for some sense of hope throughout their journey while experiencing many hardships. Connecting to the novel, near the beginning of their journey, they did say their prayers about love and Lithuania, their home, " 'I love you both...Tell her to think of the oak tree. Say your prayers, children, and I will hear them. Pray for Lithuania...' " (Sepetys, 44). When Lina discovered her father in another cattle car, he made a strong statement to stay with their mother while saying prayers until they are able to see one another again. Overall, there were not a large portion of cultural context shown by the author in this novel, but did show hints of some cultural aspects.
Author Ruta Sepetys combined factual, historical events within her fictional story line in the novel. By doing this, she presents real incidents and periods of time in the novel, " 'Where are they taking us?' I asked. 'To Siberia I think.' Siberia? That couldn't be right. Siberia was half a world away" (Sepetys, 43). Along with these historical occurrences, the author also greatly emphasizes the critical conditions that people had to push through while "living" on cattle cars, " 'Don't you realize this is just the beginning? We have a chance to die with dignity'...The hospital doors opened and a great cry erupted from within. An NKVD officer dragged a barefoot woman in a bloodied hospital gown down the steps" (Sepetys, 16 and 20). Due to the socially unfairnees in the society, people grew terrified of the Russian officers and gradually began to lose hope of love and freedom. Not only this, but people that were placed in the filthy cattle cars lacked food and water, were threatened, were hurt, and even killed.