Although the Publisher’s summary gives you the gist of the story, it hardly does it justice.
Publisher’s Summary:World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, many with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer to safety.
Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people—adults and children alike—aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.
Told in alternating points of view and perfect for fans of Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize-winning All the Light We Cannot See, Erik Larson’s Dead Wake, and Elizabeth Wein’s Printz Honor Book Code Name Verity, this masterful work of historical fiction is inspired by the real-life tragedy that was the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff—the greatest maritime disaster in history. As she did in Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys unearths a shockingly little-known casualty of a gruesome war, and proves that humanity and love can prevail, even in the darkest of hours.
The sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff is possibly the worst single-ship loss of life in history. We all know about the sinking of the Titanic, but who has ever heard of the Wilhelm Gustloff?
Sepetys is a master of shedding light on hidden bits of history and illuminating how it impacted ordinary people, the salt of the earth. In this book we meet compelling characters, some with secrets, some good, some not so good. Through them we see how war impacts civilians and the panic that ensues as armies are about to over run them: the rumors and fears that drive each character to the sea.
This is not an easy story to read, but it is fast paced. We meet each of the four narrators separately,and, at first, I had a little trouble remembering who was who. Eventually, their stories become interconnected and each story sheds more light on the others, and I felt empathy for the refugees, though not for Alfred, the fanatical German sailor, who is portrayed less sympathetically.An excellent book for readers who love historical fiction.
You can see Sepetys talking about the story in this video.