Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Posted August 12, 2016 by elzaread in Book Review / 1 Comment

Salt to the Sea by Ruta SepetysSalt to the Sea by Rita Sepetys
on February 02, 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 391
Format: Paperback
Source: Book Club
Buy on Amazon

While the Titanic and Lusitania are both well-documented disasters, the single greatest tragedy in maritime history is the little-known January 30, 1945 sinking in the Baltic Sea by a Soviet submarine of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a German cruise liner that was supposed to ferry wartime personnel and refugees to safety from the advancing Red Army. The ship was overcrowded with more than 10,500 passengers — the intended capacity was approximately 1,800 — and more than 9,000 people, including 5,000 children, lost their lives.

Sepetys (writer of 'Between Shades of Gray') crafts four fictionalized but historically accurate voices to convey the real-life tragedy. Joana, a Lithuanian with nursing experience; Florian, a Prussian soldier fleeing the Nazis with stolen treasure; and Emilia, a Polish girl close to the end of her pregnancy, converge on their escape journeys as Russian troops advance; each will eventually meet Albert, a Nazi peon with delusions of grandeur, assigned to the Gustloff decks.

390 pages
Read 09 August 2016
Published February 2016
Goodreads Blurb: Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four secrets. Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted and haunted by tragedy, lies and war. As thousand 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 lifts the veil on a shockingly little-know casualty of WWII.

The shoes always tell the story”  

In early 1945, the year most us know as the final chapter of WWII, a group of people trek across Germany in avoidance of the advancing Soviet Armies. Four young people, each carrying their own cross, narrate this unforgettable story.
You can almost say that we as readers were given the opportunity to step into their shoes and walk the miles with them.

“Your shoes are carrying your most valuable possession, your life. Everything else can be replaced

All four are haunted by the past and the present. Their individual futures are hunted by those events.

Joana – Guilt is a hunter (a Luthuanian nurse plagued with guilt)
Florian – Fate is a hunter (a Prussian with a package Hitler wants)
Emilia – Shame is a hunter (a Polish girl concealing her nationality)
Alfred – Fear is a hunter (an overeager Nazi)

Their only hope is to survive the trek across Germany and board one of the ships that formed part of Operation Hannibal. Operation Hannibal was a German naval operation involving the evacuation by sea of German troops and civilians from Courland, East Prussia and the Polish Corridor from mid January to May 1945 as the Red Army advanced. One of the ships that were made available for this evacuation, was the Wilhelm Gustloff.  

Photo kindly borrowed from Wikipedia

Many of us know the big events of WWII. There are numerous movies and novels concerning Pearl Harbor, the Battle of Midway and Dunkirk. We know the tales of French, German and Polish Jews during the Nazi reign. Fewer of us know the tragedy this book is concerned with. Sadly, I also fall in the latter statistics.

Salt to the Sea was inspired by the worst disaster in maritime history. When the Wilhelm Gustloff was sunk in port on January 30th 1945, it had over 9000 civilian refugees, almost 5000 of those children, on board. Nearly all were drowned. Ruta Sepetys brilliantly tells this shocking events through the eyes of four young people who boarded the Wilhelm Gustloff filled with relief and hope to over ten times its capacity.

I finished this novel in one sitting and spend almost the same amount of hours on research. How is it possible that I’ve never even heard of this tragedy before Ruta Sepetys gave these thousands of victims, and only a few hundred survivors, a voice? I absolutely love the following article and the view points of Sepetys concerning the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff: Wilhelm Gustloff: The forgotten maritime tragedy 

I haven’t had the privilege yet to read Between Shades of Gray or Out of the Easy, Ruta Sepetys’ previous two novels, but I am definitely going to try to get hold of it as soon as possible. As if this brilliant book wasn’t enough, the Author’s Note at the end of the book was the proverbial cherry on top. I love her passion and thorough research and the way she ads her own voice to those of the wonderful characters she created.

Salt to the Sea received a 5 Star rating from me.

“Every nation has hidden history, countless stories preserved only by those who experienced them. Stories of war are often read and discussed worldwide by readers whose nations stood on opposite sides during battle. History divided us, but through reading we can be united in story, study, and remembrance. Books join us together as a global reading community, but more important, a global human community striving to learn from the past.”

– Ruta Sepetys

Should you wish to read more reviews on this novel:

Confessions of a Book addict

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