Title: Salt to the Sea
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published: 2nd February 2016 (US)
4th February 2016 (UK)
“War had bled color from everything, leaving nothing but a storm of gray.”
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.
Despite being a history student, I don’t tend to read historical fiction much, particularly that set in the World Wars. I think, perhaps, that I have read so much non-fiction, and written so many essays, that I tend not to find them as engaging to read. But sometimes it is important to read these stories, to bring some of the emotion and feeling back to such an awful time in our world’s not-so-distant past. And sometimes that can only be done through these fictional stories.
Salt to the Sea was interesting, because it took a very specific aspect of the Second World War (the Wilhelm Gustloff refugee ship) and some very real life issues surrounding it, and gave light to it with characters we could relate to today more easily. Sometimes that is what we need today to fully grasp how awful life was for people at this time; being able to relate to it and put ourselves in that mindset. Ruta Sepetys does that brilliantly through this novel, whilst still retaining an authenticity to the storylines.
I really liked the four different perspectives given throughout the book, and their different angles on the same devastating event. Each chapter is only two or three pages long though, which I personally thought made it harder to fully feel that I knew any of the characters very well. That said, I did still find myself attached to them as a whole (with the exception of one, whom I was hoping would have some more development by the end), and dreading how the ending would play out.
What I loved most though, was that I had not even heard of this ship, despite it being, statistically, one of the greatest maritime disasters ever. Worse even than the likes of the Titanic. This book really opened my eyes to all of the awful things that happened throughout WWII, and how few are taught and studied and shown on TV/film/literature today. I loved reading the Author’s Note on the history of the book, at the end, and felt like I had read a very well researched and thoughtful novel.
It wouldn’t call it the best book I have read, set in this period, and it was perhaps a little too short for me to fully connect to the characters themselves, but it was a beautifully written and delicate book that really gets you thinking about the atrocities of war that no one ever tells you.