The lives of four young people converge as three of them flee from the advancing Russian Army, through East Prussia during the winter of 1945: Florian (a thief or a knight?), Joana, a nurse, and brave, pregnant Emilia. The fourth is the misguided, pathetically arrogant Alfred, a sailor at the port of Gotenhafen. They all have secrets and gradually become mutually dependant. Their goal is to find a ship to take them to safety and ultimately back to their countries and hopefully their families. They board the overcrowded Wilhelm Gustloff. Florian’s description of those left on the dock as the ship departs is heart-breaking. On January 30th 1945 the Wilhelm Gustloff was torpedoed by a Russian submarine, an estimated 9,500 people were killed many of them children.
The parallels between the situation of Florian, Joanna and Emilia and migrants in the Mediterranean are obvious. Joana poignantly grieves for her country- Lithuania – her family and her language. Emilia remembers Poland in ‘the snap of apple pancakes in the pan’. Reading enables us to empathise with other people and their situations and this story has given this reader real insights into the plight of displaced people. This book could be read in conjunction with the new Politics and Society subject in the Leaving Certificate.