Salt to the Sea
By: Ruta Sepetys
# of pages: 393
Challenges: Full House (4 word title)
Winter 1945. WWII. Four refugees. Four stories.
Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies, war. As thousands desperately flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom. But not all promises can be kept…
World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, many with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer to safety.
Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people—adults and children alike—aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.
My opinion: I’ve heard a lot about this book over the past two years and I can see there’s a good reason for its popularity. I was hesitant to read another WWII book after being so affected by Winter Garden a few weeks ago, but this novel was not only very well written, it was also strangely hopeful in spite of the horrifying events.
First of all, just like in many novels, I think it’s great that the author has brought attention to real events that happened during the war that may have otherwise remained buried in the past. It’s important to remember history and hopefully learn from mistakes and atrocities that were committed.
This story follows four young adults as they flee East Prussia as the Soviet army advances. The Nazis are organizing a mass evacuation on several ships, but first civilians need to make it to the port. The chapters alternate between Joana, a Lithuanian nurse; Florian, a young Prussian man who assisted the Nazis who “acquired” art from conquered countries; Emilia, an observant Polish teenager with a secret; and Alfred, a young German in the Nazi army who helps with loading the ships. There are other characters as well. A cobbler, a young boy, a blind woman, and an outspoken woman named Eva.
The chapters are very short and jump between each of the four main characters. At first I didn’t like that the reader spent so little time in each character’s head, but it ended up working just fine. At the end I understood all of the narrators and what they had done in the past to survive.
Why I gave this book 5/5 stars: Amazing storytelling, complicated but realistic characters, very emotional as well as informative.