I read this book in a day. I couldn't put it down, and for that reason I don't have many criticisms about this book.
The story is a historical fiction, set around the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, the greatest maritime tragedy in modern history. We follow four characters on their journey, and each one has such a distinct voice, that you love each of them despite all of their flaws.
Alfred is a Nazi sympathiser, and in the German Army. He's definitely the hardest to like, and to understand, but he's still so loveable in his own, interesting way.
Florian is an art student with a prized, stolen, possession. He's on the run, and keeping secrets.
Joana is a nurse who wants to reunite with her family.
Emilia is a fifteen year old girl, on the run from East Prussia after a horrible story of abuse, and torture.
We don't learn much about the Poet, the little boy, or Eva, but even though they are side characters, they're still important to the progression of the story. Everything about this novel was eye-opening to me.
As an American, we don't learn too much about the horrors faced by Europeans at the hands of the Russian Army and the German occupation. We don't get the full scope of what happened, and because of that, I found myself wanting to press deeper into the minor details of the story. I went on a wild round of Google searching after certain parts, just to see if they were true details or not.
Every one of them checked out, and I was horrified. We really have no idea what the people in Europe faced.
The story is well-paced, and every character is intriguing. I think one of the things I liked best was that you learn things about each character as the other characters learn them. It's a great way to world build.
The hardest part for me, is that at the end it was hard for me to get caught up in the tragedy because I was so desperate to know who lived and died on the ship.