Salt to the Sea

18007535

Salt to the Sea

By: Ruta Sepetys
Published:  2016
# of pages: 
393
Challenges: 
Full House (4 word title)

5Stars

Goodreads description:

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.

Winter Garden

6668467

Winter Garden

By:  Kristen Hannah
Published:  
2010
# of pages:  394
Challenge:  A to Z, What’s in a Name, Full House (redemption theme)

3Stars

Goodreads description:

Meredith and Nina Whitson are as different as sisters can be. One stayed at home to raise her children and manage the family apple orchard: the other followed a dream and traveled the world to become a famous photojournalist. But when their beloved father falls ill, Meredith and Nina find themselves together again, standing alongside their cold, disapproving mother, Anya, who even now, offers no comfort to her daughters. As children, the only connection between them was the Russian fairy tale Anya sometimes told the girls at night. On his deathbed, their father extracts a promise from the women in his life: the fairy tale will be told one last time – and all the way to the end. Thus begins an unexpected journey into the truth of Anya’s life in war-torn Leningrad, more than five decades ago. Alternating between the past and present, Meredith and Nina will finally hear the singular, harrowing story of their mother’s life, and what they learn is a secret so terrible and terrifying that it will shake the very foundation of their family and change who they believe they are.

My opinion:  This book was heartbreaking and had me sobbing towards the end.  I usually don’t mind hard stories, especially stories that take place during real wars.  It’s important to remember history and to hear people’s stories, both real and fiction.  I don’t know much about Russia during the 30s and 40s.  I enjoy WWII books and often read stories that are from the point of view of Americans, British, French, and German people.  But this is the first time I’ve read a book that took place during WWII from a Russian point of view.  I’ve spent some time thinking about the book before writing a review in case my overly emotional reaction was tainting my opinion.  But I still feel like 3 stars is a fair rating and I still feel so discouraged about the overall story for some reason.

The story is about Meredith and Nina, who lose their father and are “stuck” taking care of their emotionally distant mother.  They are also dealing with issues in their romantic relationships that stem from a childhood of emotional neglect by their mother.  Their mom, Anya, tells them a fairy tale in bits and pieces and soon they discover exactly what has shaped their lives over the years.

The first half of the book is slow and repetitive.  The pace quickens in the second half and changes are made in how the characters relate to one another.  We find out more about what happened in the past in Soviet Russia.  Horrible things happened long ago, and while they have shaped the women’s present lives, they still overcome the struggles to emerge as a new family.

While the story lifts at the end, it didn’t make me feel any happier about the depressing stuff.  I think that’s mostly my personal issue, but just know that one of the triggers is childhood death.  I’ve read the author’s book The Nightingale in which something similar happens, but for some reason this was harder for me to read.  Overall, I recommend this if you want to learn more about Soviet Russia, but I liked The Nightingale better.

Why I gave this book 3/5 stars:  Too depressing, repetitive narrative, slow pace in the first half, but the pace picks up and the characters make positive life changes.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky

32487617Beneath a Scarlet Sky
By:  Mark Sullivan

Published:  2017
# of pages: 
509
Challenge:

5Stars

Goodreads description:

Pino Lella wants nothing to do with the war or the Nazis. He’s a normal Italian teenager—obsessed with music, food, and girls—but his days of innocence are numbered. When his family home in Milan is destroyed by Allied bombs, Pino joins an underground railroad helping Jews escape over the Alps, and falls for Anna, a beautiful widow six years his senior.

In an attempt to protect him, Pino’s parents force him to enlist as a German soldier—a move they think will keep him out of combat. But after Pino is injured, he is recruited at the tender age of eighteen to become the personal driver for Adolf Hitler’s left hand in Italy, General Hans Leyers, one of the Third Reich’s most mysterious and powerful commanders.

Now, with the opportunity to spy for the Allies inside the German High Command, Pino endures the horrors of the war and the Nazi occupation by fighting in secret, his courage bolstered by his love for Anna and for the life he dreams they will one day share.

 

My opinion:  My mom recommended this book to me and I’ve been seeing it around Goodreads, especially since it’s been entered in the Best Books Awards competition this year.  I’m glad I decided to check it out because it was amazing!  WWII is my favorite historic period to read about and this book didn’t disappoint.  It’s a fictional novel, but it is based off a true story.  A man named Pino Lella really existed and did many of the things in this novel.  Apparently there’s some controversy about how much of the novel is true and even whether or not Lella’s non-fiction account is true.  When I found myself excited thinking, “I can’t believe this really happened!” I just reminded myself that it probably didn’t happen exactly that way or perhaps didn’t happen to Pino, but maybe he was close to someone else who had that experience.  It doesn’t really matter since this is a fictional account and whether it’s based off true events or not, it’s a great story.

The book tells the story of Pino Lella, a teenager in Italy during WWII.  His parents first try to protect him from the bombing of Milan by sending him to the mountains, where he begins to help smuggle Jews and other persecuted people over the Alps to safety.  Next, his parents decide to protect him by influencing where he was placed in the German military when he turns 18 and is required to serve.  His disappointment in working for the people he hates soon changes as he’s recruited to spy for the Italian Resistance.

All of this sounds a little boring, but Pino is a lively character who is easy to like.  His boyish antics like pretending to be a race car driver and exploring the mountains mix with adult actions like driving around a high level Nazi and guiding Jews over the treacherous Alps.  At times he behaves immaturely, but he’s forced to mature quicker than he should have to by the things he witnesses during the war.  The opportunities that he’s given just pop up, but he always makes wise choices by deciding to do what’s right instead of what’s easy and safe.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.  Even if it’s not usually what you like to read, I still think you should try this book out.  The descriptions of the horror of Nazi rule are balanced by the descriptions of kind people who counteracted that horror with goodness.

 

Why I gave this book 5/5 stars:  Great and well written story of a part of WWII, the Italian front, that isn’t typically written about.