“There were no ghettos, no armbands. I often fell asleep to a breeze floating through my open window. It’s true. It was like that once.”
Blurb (Goodreads)-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.
Thoughts- While Ruta Sepetys certainly has a gift of telling untold historical tragedies, this book didn’t impact nearly as much as her first novel, Between Shades of Gray. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely enjoyed reading this and it was very moving and powerful, but something about it just seemed a little… lackluster.
While I found the short and fragmented chapters wonderful in BSoG, I feel like they didn’t quite work with the multiple perspectives. Since the story is told from four intertwining perspectives, I had issues getting attached to the characters initially and telling their perspectives apart. However, I did really grow to love the majority of the characters, especially Joana and Florian! They both seemed the most fleshed out and developed characters. I also really loved Emilia’s strength and her never ending belief in love throughout the novel because it added that spark of empathy. The one character I just could not connect with or grow to like was Alfred. The tone and style of his chapters felt weird and off to me and the reader can definitely interpret that there’s something different about Alfred that explain his actions, but it’s never revealed which bothers me quite a bit.
But overall, the writing style I will always love because of how brutally honest it is. Sepetys really goes to show what the sinking of the ship and the events that preceded it truly were like. It’s very obvious that she’s done her research and it paid off so well. The main plot of the book is the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, yet it almost feels like a sub plot when you read the book. But, that works for this novel because the sinking was so quick and disastrous and the plot that leads up to even arriving at the ship dock are just as important.
This is a very character driven novel as Sepetys fights for her characters so much. They all have their flaws and yet all stand out on their own. Even the side characters traveling with our main traveling trio (Emilia, Florian, and Joana) have a special place in my heart. One of the oddest characters I’ve ever read is the Shoe Poet, or the guy who only talks about shoes. Who would’ve thought that your shoes can have so many different messages.
Overall, this was once again an extremely powerful novel from Sepetys, but I didn’t find it to have nearly as much impact as her previous novel. I still definitely recommend checking it out, especially if you’re a fan of historical fiction!