*Header image taken from Hawwa because it’s a beautiful photo. Go read her review too.
It’s early 1945 and a group of people trek across East Prussia, bound together by their desperation to reach the ship that can take them away from the war-ravaged land. Four young people, each haunted by their own dark secret, narrate their unforgettable stories.
This inspirational novel is based on a true story from the Second World War. When the German ship the Wilhelm Gustloff was sunk in port in early 1945 it had over 9000 civilian refugees, including children, on board. Nearly all were drowned.
I’ve rewritten this review so many times that I’ve lost count. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to convey just how much I adore this book or how amazing it is, and why Ruta Sepetys is an incredible author. It is so well researched and just soaked in breath-taking history, so if you’re a nerd like me on the Second WorldWar then this is the book for you.
I read this book earlier in the year as part of my university reading, and I ended up writing about it in my final assignment.
Salt to the Sea caught my eye immediately because it’s a young adult historical novel about a maritime disaster during the Second World War that I hadn’t heard about. I’m very much into stories set during the war, and so I had high hopes of enjoying it. What makes this book stand out, is the very reason of it being based on true events. Events that are truly horrific, and weren’t brought to the media’s eye at the time. There are no fluffy bits to disguise the horror, just the simple truth. The reality for so many.
We have our four protagonists; Joana, Florian, Emilia, and Alfred. All of them are Eastern European and fleeing Germany after Soviet invasion during the war. All of their lives vary significantly, we have; a a nurse, a wanderer, a pregnant teen, a mysterious soldier, amongst the other refugees that cross their path on the way to the coast. Despite their backgrounds, age, gender, class, etc they all become equals as they fight for survival, and ultimately freedom.
I was captivated by one character in particular (they’re all amazing but) I loved, and that was Emilia, the pregnant teenager. An incident happens when fortunately for her sake she is rescued by Florian, and from then on she refers to him as a “knight”, almost like the fairy tale figure of a ‘knight in shining armour’. For me it seemed to reflect that child innocence of her character, being so young and in some ways naive, and yet physically and mentally growing fast by being pregnant. It’s as if despite all the trauma Emilia is going through, she has hope that she will be saved.
I think what throws you into this book from the start is the opening chapters for each character. They’re all short (which again I love), and they leave you hanging. Joanna tells us “Guilt is a hunter”; Emilia “Shame is a hunter”; Florian “Fate is a hunter”; and Alfred “Fear is a hunter”. My curiosity peaked, knowing how these characters are feeling but questioning why they feel this way.
Before I end up talking about the whole book and spoiling it for you, an interesting fact I discovered about the origin of the books title from Ruta herself, was and I quote “The human body needs salt to survive. There’s salt in our sweat and in our tears. These refugees, they endured so much and suffered so terribly, they gave their sweat, their tears, they gave their salt to the sea.”
This really seem to put things into perspective for me of how war effects everyone, not just the one’s at the forefront, but those both at home and abroad. We can be so concerned about our own that we forget about others who have suffered too, and this is what Salt to the Sea does, it brings to our attention to those affected by World War II that we may not have been aware of beforehand. I think this is perhaps one of the main reasons why I love Ruta, she explores different locations, culture and peoples. Her storytelling is sublime.
Salt to the Sea was a pleasure to read, and I want to talk about it, and shout about it to everyone. It’s a must-read, and in my eyes, a literary treasure. This is my first Ruta Sepetys read and it certainly won’t be my last!
*Header image taken from Hawwa because it’s brilliantly photographed!