Written by: Ruta Sepetys
Published: February 2, 2016 by Philomel Books (Penguin Group)
(Amazon / Goodreads)
Synopsis: 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.
I was so thankful to Britt from Please Feed the Bookworm who shared an advance copy of Salt to the Sea with me. We both have been wanting to read some of Ruta Sepetys' books and this one sounded like a good one to start with. I am so glad I read it because I loved it and am definitely planning to read more of her books. It was a fast and engaging historical fiction novel with brave and likable characters who are struggling to survive in a difficult time.
I'm a huge fan of historical fiction but as I mentioned in my discussion post last week, I used to avoid books set during World War II but I have been reading them more lately and really liking them. What I liked about Salt to the Sea was that it is set in 1945 but it is about a little known event of the time. I love learning about events that maybe I don't know a lot about through historical fiction. That's exactly what happened here. It was so interesting learning about Operation Hannibal and the Wilhelm Gustloff. It was horrible, but interesting. I usually find books set during this time to be about the same old thing but this one was creative and different. It had the same kind of tone as those other books though. It showed the atrocities of war and the effect it has on the people (more of that later). I liked how it showed both sides of the war and how they all did things that were violent and harmful to the citizens on both sides.
That's why I really appreciated that this book had four main characters, that as the synopsis tells you came from four different countries. None of them had it easy and it was really easy to empathize with them and their situations. I think the character I first connected with was Joana. She's a plucky nurse from Lithuana who is able to leave her country because of her skills. She uses her medical experience to help anyone and everyone she meets. She was so kind and spunky. I also really felt for Emilia who is from Poland and has had a really rough time trying to escape from those horrors. My heart definitely went out to her and I really liked that she still had a positive attitude. I also enjoyed Florian who was full of secrets and had a great sense of humor. The only real hold out was Alfred. He's not very sympathetic and while that doesn't normally bother me, in contrast to the other three it made things even more difficult to connect with him.
Sepetys did a great job with developing these characters and slowly unveiling their backstories. Most of the book didn't involve the ship at all. The first 300 pages or so were all about the characters, their pasts, and what they had to go through to get to the Gustloff. And like I said earlier, it really showed the horrors of war. Each character had to endure a lot and it really made for a dramatic book and allowed you to connect with them. So much so that when you reached the climax of the story you were incredibly invested in them and their happiness. It's heartbreaking the way it all unfolds but that's what makes it so brilliant and amazing. I don't usually enjoy books that are sad on purpose but here it worked. You felt the characters pain. You knew it wasn't going to end well and you still were crushed by the twists throughout the book and the final revelations. The ending completely wrecked me but I wasn't mad at it at all.
On the whole, Salt to the Sea is a beautiful and engrossing book that will break your heart in the best possible way. It teaches you something about the atrocities of war while connecting you deeply with characters who you want to see succeed despite their pasts. It's a great piece of writing that you will undoubtedly fly through reading and remember long after you are done.
Buy/Borrow/Bypass: Buy. This is a really wonderful read. I would absolutely recommend this to fans of historical fiction, especially those who enjoy books set during World War II. But even if you don't particularly like the genre I would still recommend this book. You will enjoy the characters and the human struggle in the face of adversity.
Have you read Salt to the Sea? What did you think? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!