During the close of WWII, Europeans were frantically trying to get out of the way of the advancing Russian troops. Rape, pillage, torture. Masses were making their way north to the Baltic Sea to board the evacuation ships. A former cruise ship, the Wilhelm Gustloff was refitted to transport thousands of evacuees, civilians and troops. The story is told in the multiple voices of the small group that bands together for the journey. A young Polish girl, a nurse, a shoemaker, a small boy, a brusk woman, a blind girl, a young German with a mysterious past. They come from different backgrounds, different countries and must rely on each other to complete the journey. The horrors of war they endure and the desperate attempt to make it onto a ship. A ship to depart with 10,000 passengers. A ship that would be targeted by Russian torpedoes. The sinking of the Wilhelm Gustoff is the largest maritime disaster in history.
Easily, one of the best, most impactful historical fiction novels I have read. No, expand that. One of the best novels I have ever read. It took me days after completion to gather my thoughts. It’s the children. The unforgiveable loss of life. The frantic attempt of mothers to save their babies, the loss of innocence and childhood. Ruta Sepetys masterfully draws the reader into the story by bringing the voices of those victims to life. The flashbacks and reflections are skillfully employed to bring depth to the characters. The thread from each person’s story is woven together to teach of loss, endurance, sacrifice, and survival. A must read for middle grade and up. Highly recommend.
eGalley review Publication date 2.2.16