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.
Inspired by the single greatest tragedy in maritime history, bestselling and award-winning author Ruta Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray) lifts the veil on a shockingly little-known casualty of World War II. An illuminating and life-affirming tale of heart and hope.
Reaction upon finishing:
Ok, before I get into my feelings for this book I should probably let you know why it is I absolutely adore this author. I have read all of the books that she has released and have loved and adored every single one. Not only does she have a way with words, but she has a way of writing a story that makes me feel for a moment in the past. She writes it so that I care so much about the characters even though I know what could be the outcome for them. I absolutely love that she writes from the perspective the innocent individuals from the sidelines. In all of her books it hasn’t been just those that are being persecuted or treated poorly due to war, but also those that just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Don’t get me wrong, I love historical fiction told from those that succeeded and did good. Those that were persecuted but used it as a chance to demonstrate their strength and to inspire others…I love those stories. But a lot of the times I can see myself as being the person that is just on the sidelines and suddenly BAM, bad things happen. These people were just getting ready to start their lives on their own. They were at the age to marry and to strike out on their own adventures and now they have THESE things to deal with? I think that she almost makes it more realistic to someone like me.
She is one of those authors that I will do whatever I can to buy her books. And I will recommend the heck out of them. So prepare yourself friends that love historical fiction…I will try to throw this one in your general direction.
Alright, so now to the story at hand. This book was something else. I am really struggling to come up with the words to accurately describe what my journey was while reading this book. And it was definitely a journey. I found myself on such a roller coaster of emotions because I really connected and cared for these characters.
- I had zero knowledge of this historical event. Seriously, nothing. It seems bizarre that I didn’t because as a kid I was really into the history of the Titanic (and no, it was not because of that movie that I can never unsee). I just couldn’t believe that a tragedy like that had happened, and I wanted to know more about the people and the lives they had before they lost everything. This…this tragedy is so much worse than that. The number of lives lost when this ship sank is huge. It was women, children, soldiers…people fleeing from the advancement of the Soviets. Innocent people who were just trying to make it to tomorrow. People like the main characters of this book.
- This book is told from the perspective of 4 individuals. All 4 are from different backgrounds entirely. If you were to put them in a lineup I probably would never put them together (especially Alfred…but he’s a different story entirely and I can’t really go into too much detail about him). They are from different countries. They are from different families and different beliefs. Heck, some of them are on opposite sides even throughout the story. Even with these differences 3 of the 4 of them form almost what looks like a family with the rest of their group. They look out for one another and care for each other. They do more for each other than some families will do for one another. And even with that they were all strong, independent individuals that were just trying to get by.
- I absolutely loved Joana and Emilia. The strength that these two young women had was enviable. They were thrown into terrible situations and came out even stronger. And their actions and behaviors seemed to inspire those around them. There was so much fight in them, fight that I wish I had some days. Even though I know that the characters are fictional throughout an even that is completely historical, I can’t help but think that there had to people like these two. I like to think that even in the darkest of times there was some light.
- I really loved the balance of mystery and tension throughout the book. Each and every character had a dark secret. Something from their past that they didn’t want to talk about and wanted to move forward from. I think that added so much because it’s reality. So many people have secrets that we are running from, and so many times we view something that has happened in the past as our fault even if it wasn’t. This secrecy, this tension, it moved the book along even faster. To me, this made the book even more real.
I still feel like there is so much more I could say, but my words are going to start coming out all jumbled up pretty soon. I cannot recommend this book and this author enough. She is why my love for historical fiction continues to grow strong. It’s books like this one that continue to make me curious about events in the past that I know very little about. It’s books like these that make me want to research more and know more.
This book has stuck with me since finishing it. It had me smiling, it had me angry, it had me sobbing and experiencing so many other emotions. I am so glad I purchased this book and I am so glad that I took the time to read it. I hate thinking that there is so much history that I know nothing about, especially a tragedy such as this. And I am glad for authors like Ruta Septeys, because they make sure that I am kept in the know.
Did you read this book?