“Killers aren’t always assassins. Sometimes they don’t even have blood on their hands.”
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
This book was incredible. I laughed, I cried, and and most of all, my heart hurt but also filled with hope.
The most striking thing about this book, at least for me, is that the sinking of the of the Wilhelm Gustloff sinking was bigger than the Lusitania, bigger than the Titanic, and yet I had never heard a word about it before reading this. How? And the story which Sepetys was somehow able to craft around this terrible, dark event was somehow so beautiful. It completely grabbed me, and two days later, it still won’t let go.
One of the many incredible aspects of this story is how distinct each character is. Ruta did a really, really good job of giving each character its own unique voice. At first, I was thrown off by how short the chapters are (because the POV changed so quickly), but surprisingly, it didn’t turn out to be a problem. It took me a few chapters to figure out who was who, but it was actually really easy, and I always knew or could easily figure out who was narrating the chapter by the different ways the characters thought (*coughcough* unlike Allegiant *cough*). And not only were the characters distinct and unique from one another, but I cared about and loved (most of) them (although I’m pretty certain you’re not really supposed to like one of them). At the end of the book I found myself sobbing and wanting the characters to just come out of the book, if only so I could give them huge hugs and tell them that I know it’s not okay, I know it’s not. But I wanted wrap them in blankets to keep them warm, make them feel safe and know I care about them, that I am here to hear their story and to at least try to understand the terrible truths of the world.
As well as feeling a connection to them, I felt like I was going on the journey with the characters, not simply watching from afar. It feels that much more real, even if I can at no level begun to comprehend the horrible, horrible events and ideas of WWII. The one image that plays over and over in my mind is those women, throwing their babies at the ship as it sailed away, in the desperation to save those they love, to give them at least a chance. I can barely write this review, thinking of the blue bodies in the water, the red blood in the snow. Sepetys painted very real, very vivid images in my head that I still can’t let go. I will remember this book for a long time, and this will definitely not be my last novel by Ruta Sepetys. Yes, it was tragic. And yet, somehow, it was so hopeful. Chances are you’ll cry, but chances are you’ll also leave this book with a little light in your heart, a little hope to hold on to.
This book unquestionably deserves a 5 out of 5 stars.