Published by Philomel Books on February 2nd 2016
Buy on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, The Book Depository
Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four secrets.
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.
So this book has received nothing but rave reviews since it was released back in February. I’ll admit that I had some serious reservations about it since I’m not a huge fan of historical fiction books at all. Anyway, I knew that I had to give this one a chance since so many people have absolutely loved it. I’m happy to say that I found this to be a beautiful, touching, and heartbreaking book that continually moved me throughout the story. This wasn’t an easy read due to the heaviness of the topic, but Sepetys’s quick pace kept the book moving at all times. If you haven’t read this one yet, I highly recommend that you do. This is one that will stay with you long after finishing it.
This book faces on an epic tragedy that so many people know absolutely nothing about. Wilheim Gustoff was the biggest tragedy in maritime history, yes, it was even greater than the Titanic. It takes place towards the end of World War II. The ship belonged to the Germans and was bombed by a Soviet Union submarine when they were trying to evacuate all German citizens. The ship was extremely overcapacity at that point. In the end, there were over 9,000 people who died, about 5,000 of them being children. This is just a little bit of background on the story since it’s definitely not in most history books.
Salt to the Sea doesn’t just have one main character, it has four of them. I’d say we might get more chapters for a few of the characters over some of the others, but they are still all vital voices in the story nonetheless. Our four teenagers are Joana, Florian, Emilia, and Alfred. Joana is a nurse who is doing everything she can to be reunited with her family. Florian is a mysterious boy who is filled with secrets about where he comes from. Emilia is a young Polish girl who left her homeland for safety and is still searching for that. Alfred is a young German sailor who is very blind to anything but “orders” from his “master” aka Hitler. Though the chapters are extremely short, I still felt like the voices were all strong and well developed. We never overstayed our welcome with these characters, we learned just enough information to become so invested in their fates and lives before suddenly the tragedy strikes and things will never be the same for them after that.
I don’t really want to spoil it, but I will say that there is some romance in the story. This is a tragedy so obviously that’s the main focus here, but it’s also nice to have a little bit of a bright spot in the midst of all the darkness surrounding the story. I will say that Florian is seriously such a swoony boy and I loved his character so much. Yes, he had his secrets, but he was also so kind and awesome. I really sympathized with a lot of his story. I will admit that Alfred is a boy who disgusted more and more as the book went on. Honestly though, that should be expected considering he’s a German boy right in the middle of when Hitler rose to power. Though you don’t like him, you also have to admit that he was well written and complicated.
All in all, this was a beautiful book that I truly enjoyed reading. I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first, but I’m glad that I took a chance on it anyway. Salt to the Sea is filled with such memorable and touching characters with a heartbreaking and painful true story as well. Full warning, though you know what’s coming, be prepared to cry regardless. I try my best to stay clear of REALLY depressing books, but this one was worth the read for me. Even if you don’t like historical fiction, I suggest you read Salt to the Sea.