Author: Ruta Sepetys
Narrators: Jorjeana Marie, Will Damron, Cassandra Morris, & Michael Crouch
Publication Date: February 2, 2016
Publisher: Philomel Books
Add to Goodreads
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.
Inspired by the single greatest tragedy in maritime history, bestselling and award-winning author Ruta Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray) lifts the veil on a shockingly little-known casualty of World War II. An illuminating and life-affirming tale of heart and hope.
Salt to the Sea is totally not the kind of book I would usually read. I read a lot more fantasy and dystopian fiction than I do historical fiction (as in I can't remember the last historical fiction I read), but the shipwreck angle of this book really caught my attention. I'm a sucker for disaster stories, so I figured this might be up my alley after all. Basically, I went in expecting to read a book about a ship sinking, but this turned out to be so much more than that!
There are four main characters in Salt to the Sea - Joana, Florian, Emilia, and Alfred - each with a unique story. I absolutely adored Joana, Florian, and Emilia. The way their stories wound together was incredible. Usually I have a really hard time connecting with characters in historical fiction, but Ruta Sepetys did a fantastic job of making these characters sympathetic and at times I felt maybe too much for them. Alfred made my skin crawl, but I also felt sorry for him, which is not something I think just any author could have pulled off. Although there is romance in Salt to the Sea, it is both subtle and extremely well done. You will not find insta-love in this book! The relationships in the book form slowly and realistically, especially amongst such extraordinary circumstances.
The narration of this story is split between all four of these characters. I don't usually care for split narration, but it actually worked really well in this case. Each character is hiding big secrets and bringing a different perspective to the events that are taking place and I don't know if that could have been achieved as beautifully had this story been told from a single perspective.
Obviously, this story is set during World War II, a time period I don't often read about, so I felt like I was being introduced to a somewhat new setting and the author did an amazing job of setting the stage. I felt like I could picture the bleakness that each of these characters was facing, despite which side they were on in the bigger picture of the war. The maritime tragedy mentioned in the synopsis doesn't actually come into play until fairly late in the book and everything up until that point is about braving a country ravaged by war. The conditions these four people face are brutal and Sepetys does nothing to sugar coat it.
My favorite thing about Salt to the Sea is that I feel like I learned something about history that I may have never learned otherwise and even got to share it with a few other people. As a teenager I was a Titanic junkie and devoured everything I could find about that and other great sea disasters, so I was extra shocked to find out that there was one even worse that I'd never even heard of. The history this book tells is incredible and heartbreaking and has shockingly been overlooked by (at least American) history teachers.
The only small complaint I have about this book is that it moved a little slower than what I usually prefer. Had I not been listening to the audio, it's very possible that I might have put this back on the shelf to be continued later. Luckily I WAS listening to the audio and was able to feel the full emotional effect of reading it all at once.
Ruta Sepetys has seamlessly combined history and fiction together In Salt to the Sea to create a heartbreakingly brutal story. I've already recommended this book to several people who I know enjoy historical fiction and will continue to do so.