Author: Ruta Sepetys
Genre: YA Historical (WWII)
Set in war-torn Germany, the novel follows the journey of four main characters – Joana, Florian, Emilia, and Alfred – as they attempt to flee the advancing Russian army and reach safety. These characters’ stories intertwine as they, along with thousands of other refugees, attempt to board the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship set to carry them across the Baltic Sea and away from the dangers of war.
Part of what I love about Sepetys’ books is how they introduce me to aspects of history I have little knowledge of, and Salt to the Sea is no exception. The Wilhelm Gustloff was in fact a real ship, and, more shockingly, it was also responsible for the “worst disaster in maritime history”, but hardly anyone has ever heard of it. Sepetys talks about this here: http://www.npr.org/2016/02/17/466924137/more-died-on-this-wwii-ship-than-on-the-titanic-and-lusitania-combined.
Another reason why I adore her books are the characters, and once again Salt to the Sea does not disappoint. The book is comprised of four different POVs, resulting in the chapters being very short and fast-paced. This does not detract from the story; if anything it adds to the well-developed atmosphere of panic and emergency that permeates the novel. I finished the whole thing in one intense, emotional sitting. Out of the four characters Florian was my favourite, but each POV offers a unique perspective on the war, in part because each of the characters is from a different country embroiled in the conflict. Sepetys takes great care to build each character’s back story, revealing details carefully as the story gradually progresses.
Overall, the novel deals with the consequences of war in a really compelling manner, simultaneously shedding light on a little known tragedy, culminating to create an emotionally tumultuous book that lingers long after you finish reading it.
“Per aspera ad astra, Papa,’ I whispered. Through hardship to the stars.”
“I wept because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.”
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