Written by Ruta Sepetys
Young Adult, Historical Fiction, War
Published February 2nd 2016 by Philomel Books
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Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four secrets.War wages in the frozen front of Germany. Hitler has plagued the world with his radicalized ideals making the calmest countryside into something of nightmares. Thousands of refugees flee their homes and countries in hopes of boarding the Wilhelm Gustloff. A once vacationing ship has been turned into a makeshift hospital that is set to make a 48 hour journey to give wounded German soldiers a chance at survival, and to assist German women and children to safety.
Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies…and war.
As thousands of desperate refugees 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.
Yet not all promises can be kept.Inspired by the single greatest tragedy in maritime history, bestselling and award-winning author Ruta Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray) lifts the veil on a shockingly little-known casualty of World War II. An illuminating and life-affirming tale of heart and hope.
Amongst those making the trek to the ship are Emilia, a young girl who has survived much. Florian, a German boy with a dangerous past. Joanna, a Lithuanian nurse who fled from her family and home. The shoe poet, an orphan boy, Ingrid - a blind girl and a grouchy giant of a women whom regards her belongings with the utmost care. This unlikely band of travelers will have to face much in order to reach the ship in time. They will have to rely on one another in order to make it through the darkest part of their lives. Even then, nothing is safe.
This book came heavily recommended by Nick and Nere over at Nick and Nereydas Infinite Booklist. I was nervous at first that I wouldn't enjoy it, I always have this irrational fear of hating books other people pledge their heart and soul on. Thankfully, Nick and Nere did not lead me astray. They led me to a book that was so much more than a story. It was real. This was something that happened. Sure, the characters may very well be fictional but the struggles they went through was everyday life for millions in Europe. I loved every page, and every second of this beautifully tragic book.
Ruta Sepetys was so very precise about how she wrote this book, and it shows. She paid homage to the truth, and did her homework before daring to write about such a huge, but vastly unknown event in our history. I'm not a veteran when it comes to Historical Fiction, it's actually a genre I've only dabbled in two to three times. All my experiences have been good. But Ruta has shown me with her brilliant writing that Historical Fiction is to be done right or not done at all. It's always lovely when you can tell when an author is passionate about what they're writing.
“The Wilhelm Gustloff was pregnant with lost souls conceived of war. They would crowd into her belly and she would give birth to their freedom.”
The form in which this book was written made a 390 page book feel more like 150. The chapters alternate between all four of our characters. Each of which is 2-3 pages max. I wasn't sure if I would like this at first, but it turns out I loved it. It certainly added a special flow to the pace and thrill of the events that took place. The plot, in this case unravelled and evolved with every page. It was a unique, and remarkable read that left me flipping pages faster than I care to admit. I found myself at 67% at one point, the next I was finished and a disgusting sobbing mess.
There was such care in developing our four main characters - and even moreso in our secondary characters. I felt invested in all of their stories, each had such a colorful way of coming to life. It didn't matter if they were good or bad. I felt all the emotions - especially with Emilia, and my personal favorites - the Shoe Poet and the boy with the one eared rabbit. Hah! I feel like such a dork having fallen in love with secondary characters. But believe me, if you ever have the pleasure of reading Salt to the Sea, this old man who's so keen about shoes will grab your heart strings and tug. I will probably always be inspecting peoples shoes from here on out.
Salt to the Sea was such an unexpected treasure. It's going to remembered and renowned one day, I have no doubt about that. Ruta Sepetys wrote something meaningful. It taught me about the Wilhelm Gustloff, which prior to reading this book, I had no knowledge about. Not only that, but she created a story that captured humanity perfectly. She did not hide from reality which is what I think made this book so powerful. I'm a huge fan now, and genuinely recommend this to you all.
How do you even continue reading when you read something as good as this book?