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 LOVED IT SO MUCH!
Ruta Sepetys did it again: she managed to write a punching novel that made me experience all kinds of emotions, and it was done in a beautiful way. I am now officially convinced that she's one of my favourite authors.
Since I didn't know much about this particular novel before reading it, I wasn't expecting it to be written in multiple narrators. If I had known that it would be that way, I might have dreaded it, not knowing if it would be well done or not. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised, especially when I discovered the variety of narrators, who all offer a different point of view on the same story. From the beginning, I loved Florian, Joana and Emilia - not so much Alfred, but that was to be expected. I couldn't decide who was my favourite, because they all seem so real and complex that I liked them even more after reading every single one of their chapters. Florian is brave, strong and clever, even though all he wants is to be left alone to let that facade fall away. Seeing him through different point of views, I started noticing his kindness, his protectiveness and his will to live and to forget about the war that's going on. Joana is strong and lives to help others, but every second brings her closer to a breakdown, because she wishes she could see her family and feel safe and home again. She's an inspiring character, with all her hopes and her determination. Emilia really touched my heart. Her life hasn't been easy, not only because she's a Polish. Her self-defense reactions are heartbreaking, and we get to see more and more of them as the story progresses. I still can't believe everything that happened to her, even though I know she'd only one of the hundreds and hundreds of people who suffered from such a hard life.
I loved all the historical aspects of this story, as horrifying as some of them were. I've always loved history, particularly around WWI and WWII, so I couldn't get enough of all the details in this story. Instead of focusing on details everyone had heard of, Sepetys chose to show a dark side of history that most people haven't heard much about. I think that this is a fantastic idea, because so many atrocities happened during WWII that we have chosen to focus on a few of them instead of learning about all of them.
One thing I have to say about this story is that it's heartbreaking. I listened to its audiobook, but I often closed my eyes while I was listening to it, just to try and block out some of the awful things happening. I had to remind myself that as gruesome as some of the details were, they, along with much worse events, truly happened, so I can't just ignore them. One moment that truly made me break down was the All the Little Duckies moment towards the end, which you'll get if you've read the book. Emilia's calming song was always sad to hear about, because she usually thought about it when she was distressed, but that moment was the worst.
Overall, I thought that this novel was absolutely fantastic. It's beautifully written, it's clever, it's heartwrenching and it's raw. I absolutely recommend it, along with the rest of Ruta Sepetys's novels. She's definitely one of my favourite authors by now.
By the way, I'm sorry for the mistakes that might be in there - I wrote this on my phone since I'm on vacation, so I didn't have Wifi either.