Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Review: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Book: Salt to the Sea

Author: Ruta Sepetys

Pages: 400

Read: The paperback edition pictured above

Read in: 3 hours straight (it's THAT good!)

Plot Summary: It's early 1945 and a group of people trek across Germany, 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. 

Review: Things I LOVED about this book: 

1. First of all, Ruta Sepetys is an author that everybody needs to read. She tells stories about World War II that no history book would tell you and whilst doing that, she manages to infuse some real humane-ness to the events, characters and incidents. We have read and loved two of her previous books. You can find the review of Between Shades of Gray and Out of the Easy by clicking on those two names. This story, much like, Between Shades of Gray, tells the story of displaced people from the Baltic nations- Latvia, Lithuania, East Prussia, Poland etc. Basically, it tells about the displacement, victimisation, trials, tribulations and just sheer misfortunes of the people of these nations, whose only fault was their geographic proximity to two countries run by egomaniacal leaders- Germany and Russia. So, like I said, read her books. If for nothing else, just to learn and not forget about all the victims of that horrible war. Bear testimony to what they endured. 

2. The premise of this book is, obviously, interesting. It tells the story of four very different teenagers/ young adults who are trying to flee the on-coming 'Red Army' and their atrocities. On foot, Joana- a trainee nurse, Emilia- a 15 year old with a heartbreaking secret, Florian- a secretive German boy on an anti-Nazi mission of sorts and then there is Alfred- a young German boy part of Hitler's Naval war machine. The events are seen through the eyes of the young people and you get to see how truly and painfully helpless some of them were, given their parents were either missing or in camps or killed.. how they had nowhere to go and only the kindness of strangers to turn to. I wish more people would write such stories because the world needs constant reminders of why wars are so awful. It's not just what happens in the battlefields but what happens to innocent bystanders.. look at the Syrians, for instance... 

3. The writing is beautiful. It is evocative and moving but never over-the-top. 

4. There are several lovely characters in this book. The ragtag group of people that Florian and Emilia meet on the road- The Shoe Poet- an old man, who was once a shoemaker and a surrogate grandfather figure to all the young people on the road, Ingrid- the blind but highly intuitive girl, Klaus- the 6 year old orphan, who one day mysteriously joined them and Eva- a gruff and tough woman but with a kind heart. Each of these people were of different nationalities, each had seen and overcome so much and you just fall in love with them. 

5. Joana, Florian and Emilia are all interesting, well-etched characters and we get to see their lives before the war and now during their journey to escape to safer ground. Each of them are just so wonderful and their stories are heartbreaking in their own way. 

6. The big event in this book, which changes the destinies of these characters is the sinking of the ship- the Wilhelm Gustloff- in which they, along with almost 9000 other refugees, were trying to escape the onslaught of the Russian army. It is so sad that an incident, which is easily one of the worst maritime disasters in the world, that cost so many innocent lives is virtually unknown and not-talked-about even in most literature and history books about World War II! Most of the people who died on that ship were civilians! Also, most of the military personnel on the Wilhelm Gustloff were injured. The book has a wonderfully detailed afterword about this tragedy and what the author has learned whilst researching this book. I enjoyed reading that as much as I did the book itself. 

7. This is also a very fast-paced book. It grips you right from the beginning and is, pretty much, unputdownable! 

Rating: 5/5 
Highly recommend this book if you enjoy historical fiction or even if you don't. Read it, you won't be disappointed! 

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