Review: Salt to the Sea

by - 5:48 PM

| ISBN: 0399160302 | Pages: 393 |
Publication Date: February 2, 2016 | Source: Library
| Rating: 4 out of 5 stars |
★★★★

#1 New York Times bestseller and winner of the Carnegie Medal! 

Based on "the forgotten tragedy that was six times deadlier than the Titanic."--Time

Winter 1945. WWII. Four refugees. Four stories.
Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies, war. As thousands desperately 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. But not all promises can be kept...
World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, many with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer to safety.
Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people—adults and children alike—aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.
Told in alternating points of view and perfect for fans of Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize-winning All the Light We Cannot See, Erik Larson’s Dead Wake, and Elizabeth Wein’s Printz Honor Book Code Name Verity, this masterful work of historical fiction is inspired by the real-life tragedy that was the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff—the greatest maritime disaster in history. As she did in Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys unearths a shockingly little-known casualty of a gruesome war, and proves that humanity and love can prevail, even in the darkest of hours.
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After reading this novel, I hope that Ruta Sepetys never stops writing because her stories bring to life the horrors of World War II in way that is just so incredibly eye opening and thought provoking which is exactly what the world needs right now. 

I went into this novel knowing that it followed four refugees during World War II but I didn't know the exact details. The four characters we encounter - Joana, Florian, Alfred, and Emilia - come from different backgrounds and each are trying to get aboard Wilhelm Gustloff which promises them safety from the oncoming Russian invasion. 

“Those memories, they are the coals that shield my heart from frost.” 

Within chapters, I was hooked onto the story and the switching POVs definitely helped to keep the intrigue going. The story is so incredibly real that some parts feel so raw that it hurts. My emotions were definitely on a severe roller coaster for a majority of the story that it felt like I was holding my breath from the first till the last page. 

“Per aspera ad astra, Papa,' I whispered. Through hardship to the stars.”

Each POV that we are introduced to offers us different perspectives of World War II and even though they were in the same situation, everything seemed to drastically different. Joana is a trained nurse whose heart is bigger than the ocean and she spends the majority of the novel trying to help everyone she can out of guilt that she's still surviving and has witnessed others die. I felt automatically drawn to her and honestly admire her so much. 

“War had bled color from everything, leaving nothing but a storm of gray.” 

My favorite out of all four has to Emilia because she's such a fighter and her story broke my heart too many times to count. At only fifteen years old, she has been beaten over and over again by the war but still clings to the idea of freedom and safety with such a fervor that she empowers those around her without saying a word. I really adored her little friendship with Florian and how she stubborn clung to him because he represented safety despite all his efforts to push her away. Her trust in someone who outwardly disliked her was so pure and served a reminder of how the war destroyed innocence for so many.

“War is catastrophe. It breaks families in irretrievable pieces. But those who are gone are not necessarily lost.” 

The most interesting character has to be Alfred. I'll admit that I wanted to skip over his parts because I couldn't see how he connected into the bigger picture at the beginning. He's a young soldier who exemplifies the brainwashed youth of Germany. While I couldn't love him as a character, I appreciated his perspective because it offered such an interesting insight to the story.

“I wept because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.”

Salt to the Sea follows the tragedy of the Wilhelm Gustloff with death numbers that dwarf those of the Lusitania and the Titanic so many people (including myself) have never heard of it. I am so grateful to Ruta Sepetys for taking the time to uncover this piece of history and share it with the world. Her words are forever ingrained in my heart and I cannot express how important this novel is. 

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