What worked: This is one heart-wrenching powerful tale of the lives of four teens thrown together during horrific situations. War is ugly, painful, and carries many secrets. Sepetys doesn’t hold back with scenes that are haunting and gut-wrenching. I’m not usually a fan of multiple points of view but in this case it works. Each character shares the ugliness of war and how it impacts his/her life.
This story isn’t only a historical novel but one filled with intrigue, suspense, and even some romance. I didn’t know the history behind the German ship the Wilhelm Gustloff or the tragedy that occurred that fateful day in 1945. Ten thousand people boarded that ship, mostly refugees fleeing the Russian army. Thousands perished. You can tell the author did her research. I love history but this story isn’t one filled with dry ‘facts’ but puts a human face on an event.
Beautifully written, this story keeps you turning the pages. I felt as if I was a part of that journey. You feel their hope, discouragement, and even get a glimpse of possibilities and love. Each character is fleshed out with vulnerabilities like Florian’s secret which involves stealing something. Even Alfred has some quirks that show his weaknesses that don’t totally make him unlikable.
Powerful, heart-wrenching tale of survival during a horrific event beautifully written.