Review: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

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Review by: Meg

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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.

When I first picked up this book, like many people, I had never heard about the Wilhelm Gustloff, despite the fact that it was the largest shipwreck in history. This brilliant novel shines a light on a little-known tragedy of World War II through a gripping plot told through four seamless and emotional perspectives. Salt to the Sea is absolutely heart breaking and shines as a historical fiction stand alone that delves into a shockingly forgotten piece of human history.

In Salt to the Sea, Ruta Sepetys truly proves that she deserves her spot among some of the greatest historical fiction writers of our time, as she delivers such a moving tale about tragedy, loss, human nature, and hope. This novel is so brilliant largely because of its characters, the four main narrators, Florian, Joana, Emilia, and Alfred, carry the novel through their perspectives which seamlessly flow into one another. Each character comes from very different backgrounds, but all end up in one place because they all become victims of World War II and the desperation, fear, and tragedy it caused across their homelands. The raw emotion that comes from the four young characters in the midst of the devastation of war is what really drives this novel and makes it so amazing. These are the kind of characters that are so gripping, raw, and real that it makes them unforgettable, even long after you’ve finished the book.

Salt to the Sea is so moving and thought provoking because it showcases a largely overlooked and forgotten group of victims of World War II. The characters of this novel were refugees trying to escape the danger of the war by traveling on foot through the bitter winter to get to a harbor where they will be evacuated by boat. The most moving and emotional part of this novel for me were the scenes when they were waiting at the port with hundreds of thousands of other people trying to escape as well, but there was simply not enough room on all the boats for everyone. The desperation, devastation, and heartbreak in these scenes will stay with me for a long, long time because they showed such an interesting, horrifying, and sometimes hopeful side of human nature that most authors could never capture.

I have extremely high praise for this book, and it is truly a novel that I will continue to think about years from now because of its brutal honesty and raw emotion about such a tragic, yet forgotten piece of our human history.

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