by Ruta Sepetys
Published February 2nd 2016 by Philomel Books
Synopsis: 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.
My Review: This book was amazing. It was heartbreaking, based on a true event in history and one that is little known. I consider myself a bit of a history buff, but I had never heard of this tragic event.
The story focuses on four young adults; each with a different background, from different countries and how they are living and trying to survive through WWII. The story is told in short chapters and switches point of view each chapter between these characters. One is a young pregnant Polish girl, one a young woman who was studying to be a nurse from Lithuania, one a young man from Prussia who is attempting to sneak a precious artifact out of Germany to embarrass Hitler and the fourth a German boy who was conscripted to serve on a ship evacuating the eastern section of Germany before the Russians advance.
The background is that the Russians are continuing to march into Germany and the civilians need to evacuate. They are being killed quickly so this needs to be done with urgency, unfortunately, the Germans are pretty slow with this order so many are risking their lives to get to the harbour. When the little group arrives, the area is chaotic with so many trying to get on a ship to get to safety. Several refugees are left on-shore. Others are “lucky” enough to get passage on overcrowded ships. The Wilhelm Gustloff is one such ship carrying over 10,000 passengers on a ship built to accommodate just under 1,500. Lifeboats are also limited (they have less than half the normal complement). All but one of the small group gets passage on this ship, including the “shoe poet” and young boy. When Russian torpedoes hit the ship, it sinks pretty quickly with almost all the passengers perishing.
The main characters in this story were easy to like, all except for one, the young sailor. The lives of the characters gradually unrolled as you read the book and got to know them. I found myself rooting for them and their survival. The sacrifices that many took in this story is amazing. I have read many book about this time period and was not sure if I wanted to read another, but I am glad I did. This opened my eyes to what regular civilians in eastern Europe dealt with during this time. It was horrendous. Make sure you read the author’s remarks at the end and for more information visit this website: http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifesty…
I recommend this book to anyone, especially those who read historical fiction or those that like reading about WWII. This book is listed as YA but I believe adults will definitely enjoy it as well.