Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four secrets.
Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies…and war.
As thousands of desperate refugees flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom.
Yet not all promises can be kept.
This is a wonderful and important book. I love how Ruta Sepetys takes lesser known events or even secrets from WW II and brings them alive. This story was masterfully crafted and even though most people will know how it ends when they start reading it (like I did), that does not take away from the story. The inevitability of their fate gives it an extra dimension.
The story has four different perspectives. First there is Joanna, cousin of Lina from Between Shades of Gray. She’s a nurse and travels with a group of people to try and find her mother. Secondly, there’s Emilia, a Polish girl with a horrifying secret (really, it made my heart ache). Then there’s a young Prussian man who won’t share his name. And last but not least, there’s Alfred, a German marine.
I liked three out of the four characters. Like most people I hated Alfred. But I think that’s the point. When you as a reader, dislike a character who is disliked by the people in the book, it creates a connection and adds to the atmosphere. It doesn’t take you long to get to know Alfred, you immediately realize there’s something odd about him. He was still a great character, though, it’s not like he’s written badly. He’s just a horrible person.
Once again, Ruta Sepetys doesn’t hold back. She describes horrible scenes, some of which will stay with me forever. The fact that you know that it all happened at some point or another makes it even worse. War is a nightmare and you read about this nightmare in great detail.
I’m not sure if I liked this book more or less than Between Shades of Gray. There were some points when I looked at the page number and thought that it was going a bit slow. Maybe I just didn’t get into the story the way I did with BSoG, but I still enjoyed it immensely.. If you can really enjoy a book as heartwrenching like this.
I’m happy that books like these are being written for a YA audience.
They are both beautiful!
I’m marking all the locations of the books I’ve read on a map. You can find it here.