I’ve wanted to read this book since it came out on a list for “books to look forward to most in 2016”. The story sounded intriguing and I loved the cover, but I didn’t get around to reading it until recently, but it was well worth the wait.
Here’s what it’s about:
“World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, many with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer to safety.
Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people—adults and children alike—aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.
Told in alternating points of view and perfect for fans of Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize-winning All the Light We Cannot See, Erik Larson’s Dead Wake, and Elizabeth Wein’s Printz Honor Book Code Name Verity, this masterful work of historical fiction is inspired by the real-life tragedy that was the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff—the greatest maritime disaster in history. As she did in Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys unearths a shockingly little-known casualty of a gruesome war, and proves that humanity and love can prevail, even in the darkest of hours.”
5/5 stars. This was a brutally honest, emotionally gripping, and informative in the best ways. I really appreciated the short chapters and the fast pace to the book as well as the overall unpredictability, especially given we know the ship sinks. Sepetys is excellent at creating characters who are easy to root for and who have both clear motivations and realistic responses to the (equally well-crafted) plot and setting. The cover is as haunting and beautiful as the text it contains.
The whole story was the right balance of suspenseful- enough so it was hard to put down but not too much so it was painful to read or utterly hopeless.
Sepetys also excelled at characterization. I loved the truthfulness in the shoe maker’s comments and how this also helped characterize the others. Furthermore, it was impressive that all four characters could have distinct personalities given the story switches so much (but thankfully is still easy to follow).
While I appreciated the fact that Joana, Florian, and the baby survive, it did seem a little unrealistic, but I suppose this is better than utterly depressing. I’m glad we got to see Alfred’s side of the story, especially since it helps shed light on his motives. Also, most books focus on the persecuted, so I appreciated getting both perspectives. I’m relieved Alfred didn’t hurt Emilia or survive when she didn’t (although I was initially confused as to her fate, so this could have been made clearer). Additionally, I’m glad we didn’t know the backstory to her pregnancy until later. The way she coped with it seemed accurate in a way that made it more relatable, powerful, and sickening.
Speaking of book reviews, if you’ve read my book INSOMNUS, please leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads. (I still have free bookmarks I’d love to give you if you do).