Salt to the Sea
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Source: Local Library
Summary: As Germany is losing WWII, four fates converge on the road to one of the greatest maritime disasters you've never heard of.
First Impressions: Wow, this was harrowing. Alfred's sections especially made me want brain bleach.
Later On: We hear so much about World War II, but it's often about the American homefront or the Holocaust. Sometimes you get the British homefront. If you get a perspective on Germany or Eastern Europe, it's usually a Nazi or someone struggling to deal with a Nazi in their family or close friendships.
This shines a light into the everyday life of the citizens of Nazi Germany and the occupied areas. Each character has secrets that unfold gradually and converge with others in unexpected ways, showing the many and varied effects of war on the average person - from Emilia, pregnant and alone, to Florian the unwilling hero, to Joana, just trying to survive, to Alfred, a supremely deluded and unlikeable person.
The disaster looms, more so because the reader is probably going to have little to no idea how it actually happened. Some might even be taken completely by surprise (although the human mistakes that led to it are well-documented in the story).
It's not a happy ending for everyone, (did we expect anything else from this time period and this author?) but it's a slice of history that's valuable to hear.
Spoilers, probably, but: Military History Online's page on the sinking of the Wilhem Gustloff