It’s early 1945 and a group of people trek across East Prussia, bound together by their desperation to reach the ship that can take them away from the war-ravaged land. Four young people, each haunted by their own dark secret, narrate their unforgettable stories. Fans of The Book Thief or Helen Dunmore’s The Siege will be totally absorbed.
This inspirational novel is based on a true story from the Second World War. When the German ship the Wilhelm Gustloff was sunk in port in early 1945 it had over 9000 civilian refugees, including children, on board. Nearly all were drowned. Ruta Sepetys, acclaimed author of Between Shades of Grey, brilliantly imagines their story.
Such a powerful and intense book! There’s a lot of books featuring WWII but this is for sure an amazing one! It was so gripping, important and emotional!
This story is told in 4 different POVs: Joana, Florian, Emilia, and Alfred.
Joana is a Lithuanian nurse, Florian is a Prussian art restoration apprentice who carries a secret, Emilia a young Polish girl and Alfred, a delusional young German who takes things too literally and thinks he is better than he actually is. They all have the same goal: survive the war, but their reasons and ways to get there are rather different.
Their lives all entangle together on the ship Wilhelm Gustloff due to the attacks from Russia. This ship was real, what happened was real, and yet, I don’t remember that mentioned in school. I knew the name and that’s about it… Here is some info from Wikipedia if you’re interested: “Wilhelm Gustloff – The German KdF flagship sank after being hit by three torpedoes fired by the Soviet submarine S-13 on 30 January 1945 in the Baltic. 5,348 are known dead but it has been estimated that up to 9,400 were killed, making it possibly the worst single-ship loss of life in history. Most of those killed were German civilians, military personnel, and Nazi officials being evacuated from East Prussia. 903 survivors were rescued.”
Back to the book… All the characters are incredibly different and interesting, some you can’t help but fall in love with, others you gradually learn to love, and others you abominate. But it doesn’t stop there, there are some other characters that I really feel are worth mentioning. We have a shoe poet, a little young boy who lost everyone, a blind girl, and a straightforward intimidating woman. Every single character seemed incredibly real, and you couldn’t help but want to know more about them and their stories.
This is an incredibly tragic story that will leave you on the edge of your seat. I can’t even believe what it must have been like there, but this book really gives a pretty good idea. Although in my opinion, the format is interesting because it gave a lot more from each character, although I must say not my favorite since I’m not much a fan of too many POVs… Plus, it also took a bit of the impact that was creating. The writing is really good, but the chapters are rather small and just didn’t manage to hit me as hard as they could have.
This book is incredibly important and just amazing. It gives a really realistic view of what happened during WWII in that particular boat, the chaos the world was in and how awful people were treated. It’s just… I can’t even. Highly recommended.
Have you read this book? What did you think of it? Let’s discuss it in the comments below!