Published by Philomel Books on February 2nd 2016
Genres: Historical, Romance, War & Military, Young Adult
Amazon | Book Depository | Publisher | Angus & Robertson
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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.
Historical is one of my favourite fiction genres and Salt to the Sea was everything that I love about historical fiction, with a cherry on top. It was impactful and emotional and I don’t think I could have asked for anything more.
Salt to the Sea was an extremely well researched novel. The book follows four different characters and their experiences with Operation Hannibal during WWII. They were loaded on to the Wilhelm Gustloff, a majestic ship that then met a tragic end at the hands of the Russians. This is the greatest maritime disaster in history but is largely an unknown story to most, and Ruta Sepetys does an incredible job of bringing the story to light with her own wonderful characters. Each of the characters’ stories were meaningful and heartbreaking, and I felt like I was there experiencing not only their present but also their pasts with them. We have Emilia, a Polish girl who has seen and experienced some very traumatic things in her very young 15 years of life. She’s rescued by Florian, a Prussian man with a lot of dangerous secrets and revenge on his mind. They run into Joana, a Lithuanian refugee with medical training and a heart of gold. And finally, there’s Alfred, a Nazi soldier with ambition on his mind. Their pasts were haunting and traumatic but their characters were so full of resilience and fight. Even now, my heart is swelling up with emotion as I think about how brave and strong they were in the face of danger and death.
“Just when you think this war has taken everything you loved, you meet someone and realize that somehow you still have more to give.”
The relationship between the characters were what made this book for me. Our main cast of characters were so wonderful and giving to each other (with maybe the exception of Alfred), even in a time when people were only looking out for themselves. They cared for and sacrificed for each other even when it meant putting themselves into the path of danger. The amount of love that they showed each other is just mindboggling and brings tears to my eyes. *takes a break to have a cry* I also loved the characters individually and felt a deep connection to each one of them (with the exception of Alfred). Emilia was probably my favourite character of the four perspectives in the book, but only by a hair because I loved Florian and Joana immensely too. I also really really loved some of the side characters, especially the Shoe Poet who would spout lots of wisdom that was shoe-related. The characters were just fantastic and I need to take another break to cry again.
Ruta Sepetys is a true master of words. It’s hard to comprehend how she manages to string words together into such perfect sentences that tug at your heartstrings. It was an absolutely beautiful book to read. I enjoyed all four of the perspectives in the book and appreciated the short chapters. Ruta Sepetys uses the format of the book to her advantage and has created a masterpiece.
Salt to the Sea is a brilliant and well researched YA historical fiction novel about a massive event in history that is little known and needs to be talked about more. Ruta Sepetys has done an amazing job at telling the story of the Wilhelm Gustloff and I haven’t felt this emotionally connected to a book in a long time.
Rating: 5 out of 5