If I get to say just one thing about Salt to the Sea, it’s this: Ruta Sepetys’ most recent novel is emotional, thought-provoking, and a must read for people of all ages.
In 1945, World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia, and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, almost all of them 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 toward safety.
Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people aboard must fight for the same thing: survival. Synopsis: Goodreads
Salt to the Sea is one of the most memorable books I have read in a very long time. Ruta Sepetys tells the story of four teenagers during World War II, each with different backgrounds and intentions, all of whom end up on the Wilhelm Gustloff. Unbeknownst to most people, the Wilhelm Gustloff is actually to greatest maritime tragedy in history but the story of the ship’s demise has largely been overshadowed by the Titanic.
I was hesitant about Salt to the Sea when I started, thinking it would be depressing and unexciting. That was not the case in the slightest. I was instantly transported to 1945 and brought straight into the lives of our four main characters: Joana, Emilia, Florian, and Alfred.
Very early on, you get a sense of who each character is and slowly begin to unravel their story. Salt to the Sea is very character driven – each has an important role in this story right up to the last page. The story switches point-of-view between the four characters quickly which keeps the pace flowing steadily. Four interchanging voices has the potential to be overwhelming but Sepetys has written each character so distinctively that there is no confusion. Florian had me longing to figure out his secret while Alfred had my blood boiling within seconds. My heart went out to Emelia for the horrors she’d been through and I admired Joana’s strength and determination throughout everything.
Salt to the Sea is a story of survival, not just on the Wilhelm Gustloff but during the journey before and after as well. By spending time on the refugee’s journeys to the ship itself and their backgrounds, you build a relationship with the characters and an understanding of how truly desperate people were during this time period. It’s heartbreaking and eye-opening to read about some of the things that people went through; I don’t want to give anything away but be prepared for startling confessions. Nazi Germany was a horrifying place to be growing up.
Through building a thorough backstory for the disaster on the Wilhelm Gustloff, Ruta Sepetys makes this lost history easily accessible. Salt to the Sea puts (fictional) names to the faces of just a few victims of the Wilhelm Gustloff and the Nazi reign and makes it a part of history that readers will want to remember. Salt to the Sea doesn’t just tell the story of the Wilhelm Gustloff, it makes you care about the people who were affected and what they went through. This beautifully captivating novel tells the story of a tragedy, yet it leaves you with a reminder of the good in humanity. Salt to the Sea is a book you’ll be thinking about long after you turn the last page.