Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
Published: 02.02.2016 by Puffin
Genre: Historical Fiction, YA
Rating: 5/5 stars
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.
It took me a few months before picking up this one. I had read one Ruta Sepetys book before, Out of the Easy, which I really enjoyed. But the hype for this book was incredible! I mean, so many raving reviews. So I was kind of afraid to read it, because I didn’t want to be disappointed. I’m glad I finally picked it up though, it was so good -and in my opinion, completely worth the hype.
So this story is set in the last year of WWII, in Germany. I’ve read a few YA historical fiction novels set in Germany, such as The Book Thief and All the Light We Cannot See. Those are all told from the perspective of a German person though -or at least partly. Salt to the Sea isn’t really. It’s told from different perspectives: a Prussian, a Polish girl, and so on. I feel like those are the sides often forgotten. Especially the Polish. They were kind of squished and stuck between the German forces and the Allied forces, receiving the worst treatment from both sides.
While I was reading this book, I was astonished. I can’t believe I’d never heard of the Wilhelm Gustloff before! In Belgium, you’re required to learn A LOT about WWII in high school. Like truly, a lot. So why have we never heard of this massive maritime tragedy, where thousands of innocent refugees died? It’s ridiculous. I can’t believe that so many happenings of the world war are already forgotten, and it’s only been a few decades. I can’t imagine how many events in the world are lost to us forever.
So this story follows Joana, Emilia, Florian and Alfred -they all have their own POV. They travel on foot through the country , trying to reach the harbor and get safe passage on a boat. They all have their own reasons for trying to escape/run away. Aside from Alfred, he’s actually a German soldier who works at the harbor.
This is a character-driven story, because you mostly know how it will end. It’s historical fiction after all. I was attached to the characters, aside from Alfred because he’s disgusting, which means that I just kept reading and reading until I reached the end. I couldn’t stop. Which is insane because I already knew such a big part of what happened! Yet I needed to know, from their perspectives.
First up, Joana. Joana is on her way to the harbor with a pass that allows her safe passage, because she has German heritage I believe. She was studying to become a doctor, and kind of becomes the mother of the group she’s traveling with, although she’s far from the oldest. She’s so kind, strong and smart, it’s hard not to admire her.
Then there is Emilia. Emilia is Polish. I just want to hug her, and comfort her. She’s had a hard life, and she’s so young still. Because she’s Polish, she travels off-road to not get discovered by the Germans. That’s how she runs into Florian, and eventually the group Joana travels with. She seems so sweet, and so innocent you just want to protect her.
Like I mentioned above, the fourth POV is that of Florian. He’s Prussian, and worked in a museum. He restored art to help preserve the most amazing paintings in the world. Or so he thought. He is running away, as far as possible, and as fast as possible without being discovered. Why? You’ll have to find out for yourself.
Lastly, Alfred. I feel nauseous even writing about him. He’s such a disgusting person. With a serious god complex. I don’t even want him to take up space in my review.
I would highly recommend this book. Whether you’ve read much historical fiction or not, this is an easy read. Ruta Sepetys manages to make it a captivating story, while letting it flow easily. I was attached to all of the characters (except Alfred, him I’d let die), and even though I knew how their story would end (mostly) I still had hope.