Apr 22nd

Review of Salt to the Sea

Posted in Reviews


Salt to the Sea

Author: Ruta Sepetys
Publisher: Philomel Books
Date Published: February 2, 2016
Genre(s): Young Adult, Historical Fiction
Where I got the book: Public Library
Synopsis (from goodreads):
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.

Salt to the Sea has a wide-ranging cast of characters with multiple points of view. The book takes place in East Prussia where refugees are fleeing the advancing Russian army in an attempt to reach safety in Germany. It’s the little known story of one of the greatest maritime distasters of World War II. While most people have heard of the Titanic and Lusitania, Salt to the Sea instead tells the story of the Wilhelm Gustloff.

While I have read a lot about Germany, America, and France during World War II, the setting of Salt to the Sea was on that was largely unfamiliar to me. It was fascinating to learn more about the Prussian landscape, as well as the fallout from Germany’s break with Russia and the ensuing battles. Some description of the horrors committed by Russian soldiers are graphic enough to be triggering to some readers. I do think it’s an important piece of history, however, and worth reading about.

An incredible amount of research clearly went into this book and to my limited historical knowledge, it seemed remarkably historically accurate. On top of this, Ruta Sepetys’ writing is absolutely incredible. Salt to the Sea was so very compelling. I picked it up because it was a new release and I had a craving for historical fiction. I didn’t expect to be so immediately pulled into this story, but I found myself unable to put it down. Salt to the Sea never becomes boring, even when the characters are simply walking from one place to another. The descriptions of the scenery are incredible and the dramatic conversations that occur between characters command your attention and hold your interest.

We meet most of our main characters as they converge along a route being taken by many refugees fleeing to the Prussian coast. Joana is a Lithuanian nurse who has been repatriated as a German because of their need for her medical skills. When we meet her, she is helping a group of refugees make it to the Prussian coast. She is the thinker and feeler of the group. Joana’s need to compensate for a past tragedy for which she holds herself responsible results in her spending much of the story attempting to save the other characters.

Florian is a Prussian art restorer who deserted his Nazi post and is on the run with a valuable object he’s trying to keep secret. As a deserter, he is unsure who to trust and must maintain his secrets at some cost to himself. Along the way, he begins to care for the group of refugees. This forces him to balance his desire to stay alive with his desire to care for these people.

Emilia, the other main character of this story, is a pregnant Polish girl attempting to conceal her identity and reach safety. Her story is the most painful to read about as there is a large amount of tragedy in her background. It takes the entire book to completely understand the depth of her personal story. While the terrors of the concentration camps are well known, the ordeals of this character aren’t ones we often hear about. While she is considered “undesirable” by German Nazis, she retains her freedom but also carries the burden of her unborn child and a terrible secret. There’s a language barrier between Emilia and the other characters: while she understands most of what they say, she doesn’t speak much to the other characters in order to hide her nationality and keep her identity a secret. Her story is not what it initially seems, and she is trying to protect herself from both Russian and German soldiers.
Alfred is a Nazi soldier assigned to the Wilhelm Gustloff. He is attempting to distinguish himself among the ranks. The majority of his perspective is told through letters he writes to a sweetheart back home in Germany. Alfred provides some comic relief in the story, as there is a great disparity between what he describes to his sweetheart and and what actually happens to him. It was a very interesting approach for the author. Alfred is clearly the villain of this story as a proud Nazi, but he also makes the reader laugh quite consistently. I alternately pitied him, hated him, and found him humorous–it definitely resulted in a complex mixture of feelings.
I found Salt to the Sea to be intensely captivating and extremely emotional. While you go into this book essentially knowing how it will end–the ship sinks, of course–I could not stop reading. I found myself so driven to know what happens to each character and to understand their individual stories more fully. On top of this, there’s a slow burn love story that was a nice touch and exquisite to read. I found the ending to this book to be extremely satisfying. It certainly isn’t the happiest and many things don’t happen the way the reader wishes them to, but it delivers closure.

Salt to the Sea was an incredible story to read, and I can’t recommend it enough. Upon finishing, I was immediately motivated to find and read everything else that Ruta Sepetys has written–in fact, I think I’ll get on that right now!


Salt to the Sea

Author: Ruta Sepetys
Publisher: Philomel Books
Date Published: February 2, 2016
Genre(s): Young Adult, Historical Fiction
Where I got the book: Public Library
Synopsis (from goodreads):
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.

Salt to the Sea has a wide-ranging cast of characters with multiple points of view. The book takes place in East Prussia where refugees are fleeing the advancing Russian army in an attempt to reach safety in Germany. It’s the little known story of one of the greatest maritime distasters of World War II. While most people have heard of the Titanic and Lusitania, Salt to the Sea instead tells the story of the Wilhelm Gustloff.

While I have read a lot about Germany, America, and France during World War II, the setting of Salt to the Sea was on that was largely unfamiliar to me. It was fascinating to learn more about the Prussian landscape, as well as the fallout from Germany’s break with Russia and the ensuing battles. Some description of the horrors committed by Russian soldiers are graphic enough to be triggering to some readers. I do think it’s an important piece of history, however, and worth reading about.

An incredible amount of research clearly went into this book and to my limited historical knowledge, it seemed remarkably historically accurate. On top of this, Ruta Sepetys’ writing is absolutely incredible. Salt to the Sea was so very compelling. I picked it up because it was a new release and I had a craving for historical fiction. I didn’t expect to be so immediately pulled into this story, but I found myself unable to put it down. Salt to the Sea never becomes boring, even when the characters are simply walking from one place to another. The descriptions of the scenery are incredible and the dramatic conversations that occur between characters command your attention and hold your interest.

We meet most of our main characters as they converge along a route being taken by many refugees fleeing to the Prussian coast. Joana is a Lithuanian nurse who has been repatriated as a German because of their need for her medical skills. When we meet her, she is helping a group of refugees make it to the Prussian coast. She is the thinker and feeler of the group. Joana’s need to compensate for a past tragedy for which she holds herself responsible results in her spending much of the story attempting to save the other characters.

Florian is a Prussian art restorer who deserted his Nazi post and is on the run with a valuable object he’s trying to keep secret. As a deserter, he is unsure who to trust and must maintain his secrets at some cost to himself. Along the way, he begins to care for the group of refugees. This forces him to balance his desire to stay alive with his desire to care for these people.

Emilia, the other main character of this story, is a pregnant Polish girl attempting to conceal her identity and reach safety. Her story is the most painful to read about as there is a large amount of tragedy in her background. It takes the entire book to completely understand the depth of her personal story. While the terrors of the concentration camps are well known, the ordeals of this character aren’t ones we often hear about. While she is considered “undesirable” by German Nazis, she retains her freedom but also carries the burden of her unborn child and a terrible secret. There’s a language barrier between Emilia and the other characters: while she understands most of what they say, she doesn’t speak much to the other characters in order to hide her nationality and keep her identity a secret. Her story is not what it initially seems, and she is trying to protect herself from both Russian and German soldiers.
Alfred is a Nazi soldier assigned to the Wilhelm Gustloff. He is attempting to distinguish himself among the ranks. The majority of his perspective is told through letters he writes to a sweetheart back home in Germany. Alfred provides some comic relief in the story, as there is a great disparity between what he describes to his sweetheart and and what actually happens to him. It was a very interesting approach for the author. Alfred is clearly the villain of this story as a proud Nazi, but he also makes the reader laugh quite consistently. I alternately pitied him, hated him, and found him humorous–it definitely resulted in a complex mixture of feelings.
I found Salt to the Sea to be intensely captivating and extremely emotional. While you go into this book essentially knowing how it will end–the ship sinks, of course–I could not stop reading. I found myself so driven to know what happens to each character and to understand their individual stories more fully. On top of this, there’s a slow burn love story that was a nice touch and exquisite to read. I found the ending to this book to be extremely satisfying. It certainly isn’t the happiest and many things don’t happen the way the reader wishes them to, but it delivers closure.

Salt to the Sea was an incredible story to read, and I can’t recommend it enough. Upon finishing, I was immediately motivated to find and read everything else that Ruta Sepetys has written–in fact, I think I’ll get on that right now!

By Kate Woods

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