Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Received from NetGalley for review.

My heart hurts. Between Shades of Gray had the same effect, and I am in no way surprised that I loved and hurt as much for this book. Ruta Sepetys just has a way of writing that speaks to me on a deep level and hits me right where it hurts; I love her simple and powerful prose.

Salt to the Sea tells the story of a tragic, but not very well known, part of World War II – the sinking of an evacuation ship, the Wilhelm Gustloff, as it left East Prussia over the Baltic Sea, killing over nine thousand people, children and babies included. I personally hadn’t heard of it before reading this and that saddens me greatly – stories like this need to be told and I am so grateful to writers like Sepetys for making them heard.

The story is told through four alternating viewpoints: Joana, a Lithuanian refugee; Florian, an artist on the run; Emilia, a young Polish girl desperately trying to find safety; Alfred, a socially awkward sailor on the Wilhelm Gustloff who believes wholeheartedly in Hitler’s vision for the world. The characters are all excellently developed; even the characters that I despised were believable in their cruelty and narrow mindedness, and I found myself deeply invested in the fate of Joana, Florian, and Emilia.

The chapters are very short, a few pages at most, which some people may find hard to follow but I enjoyed; I was able to build up a picture of each character and their massively different backgrounds quickly, and I loved the diversity of the characters. They each have their own secrets and pain that slowly come to light through the use of flashbacks. The stories within Salt to the Sea are truly tragic, even more so because you know they were a reality for many in the war – abandoned children, families separated, girls abused, death, or the threat of it, everywhere you looked. Some may find the story slow, as a lot of the plot is taken up in the characters making their way to the ships, but I enjoyed the way the characters all came to know each other, and learning about the hardships that they faced as a consequence of the war.

Salt to the Sea is a very moving story about the plight of many innocent people towards the end of the war, one that will stay with me for a very long time, and one that has strengthened my resolve to know more of the untold stories of World War II. I, for one, will be making sure they have a voice.

Read: January 30th-31st 2016

5/5 stars

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