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.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and was fascinated by its subject (the Gustloff), a tragedy I had never even heard of before. While Sepetys’ research is clearly there, the historical aspect of the novel is not overwhelming. Rather, it provides a realistic backdrop for the heartbreaking story. (I REPEAT. HEARTBREAKING.)
This book is written in the perspective of four young people during World War II. The perspectives are narrated first person and change every chapter. This was a bit weird to get used to because each chapter is usually no more than two pages. I was slightly annoyed and confused at first, but once I got to know each of the characters I started to like the way it was structured. The characters themselves were lovely; they were all extremely well-written with depth and strange quirks. The relationships among them were dynamic, the romance was minimal and tastefully done.
I brought the book down from five to four stars because the story itself, while beautiful, felt a little off-paced for me. It’s not that it was slow, but there was something odd about the progression that made the length of certain scenes seem out of proportion with their importance. Sometimes Sepetys would jump from point A to point B without any explanation, while at other times the journey was incredibly long and unnecessary. This was promulgated by the simplistic prose; it was effective, but left something to be desired.
I would definitely recommend this book regardless of your opinion on historical novels, because there were multiple facets of the story that would enable anyone to enjoy it. I could truly feel Sepetys’ passion coming through the pages.