While the Titanic and Lusitania are both well-documented disasters, the single greatest tragedy in maritime history is the little-known January 30, 1945 sinking in the Baltic Sea by a Soviet submarine of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a German cruise liner that was supposed to ferry wartime personnel and refugees to safety from the advancing Red Army. The ship was overcrowded with more than 10,500 passengers — the intended capacity was approximately 1,800 — and more than 9,000 people, including 5,000 children, lost their lives.
Sepetys (writer of ‘Between Shades of Gray’) crafts four fictionalized but historically accurate voices to convey the real-life tragedy. Joana, a Lithuanian with nursing experience; Florian, a Prussian soldier fleeing the Nazis with stolen treasure; and Emilia, a Polish girl close to the end of her pregnancy, converge on their escape journeys as Russian troops advance; each will eventually meet Albert, a Nazi peon with delusions of grandeur, assigned to the Gustloff decks.
This book is absolutely amazing! This is actually my reread of this one as I did listen to the audiobook a couple years ago and loved it then too. However, I didn’t end up reviewing it last time so I decided to do it this time!
Firstly I highly recommend the audiobook! It is amazingly done & has full cast narration. It’s definitely worth the listen.
This is a very emotional and hard hitting book. I spent the last couple chapters with tears in my eyes & actually had to put the book down twice to pull myself together. It is written in a way that you have an instant connection with these characters (well most of them) and you just want them to get to freedom. Of course this is based off WWII and a lot of people did die, so it’s something you know is likely coming in the book but it doesn’t make it easier to read when it does.
I love and care for Florian, Emilia & Joana so much and genuinely hate Alfred as a person and a character. These characters feel so fleshed out and you learn their stories & their history. It makes it hard to not think of them as real people.
This book also drags you in and won’t let go. I didn’t want to put it down as I just wanted to find out what happens next. It’s also very unpredictable. Just when you think everything is going alright the shit hits the fan again and you are left in shock because of it.
I also love that the author kept the book as historically accurate as she could. Not only did she do that but she also explained it all and told you what really happened and what was fiction. I love that this also focuses on a lesser known event that was extremely deadly. I wish more YA books focused on specific lesser known events so as to educate readers.
Overall I highly recommend this book. Of course it is a WWII story and it’s extreme and hard hitting. There is of course the obvious trigger warnings for a war book such as violence, death, children suffering, etc. but also, please be aware that there is references & discussion of rape in this one. However I think it is an important read and one that needs to be discussed & promoted more.
Have you read Salt to the Sea? What is a similar book that I should also read?
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