A story that kept me spellbound. A fictional account of a historical event that most of us have never heard about. I felt so much empathy for all the characters except Alfred. A hard story to read but one we need to learn from and ensure these kinds of situations never again occur.
This book is told by four characters, each of whom reveals his/her own story, and their trek to hopefully board a ship to freedom. The tale climaxes with a little known sinking that occurred during WWII because it was kept secret by the Germans. More lives were lost in this tragedy than in many others that have been widely reported through news sources. Thus, little was written about the Wilhelm Gustloff. The freedom the characters seek is from war and all its tragedy. As each character develops one cannot help but empathize with them, their struggles, their troubles, their dreams and their hopes.
The characters I particularly liked were Heinz, Johana, Emilia, and Florian. There were others whose self interest is deplorable and sometimes sad. Such is the case with Alfred who despised himself for falling in love with a Jewish woman he cannot forget, always writing letters to her in his head. He sees himself as a dedicated and unappreciated German soldier who hates all who do not fit Hitler's ideal racial profile. The tales are woven together by putting the first four characters in a group that struggles to find its way to freedom and peace.
It's all very well done and I recommend this read to those who wish to understand the tragedy of war and how it affects the innocents. Yes, there is death and disillusionment but there is hope, too, for a better life.