“I raised my face to the sun. My war had been so long, my winter so cold. But I had finally made it home. And for the first time in a long time, I was not afraid.”
Title: Salt to Sea
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Publication: February 2nd 2016 by Philomel Books
Source: Publisher in exchange for a honest review
Summary from 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.
While I have never read any of Ruta Sepetys’ work before, her name has always been floating around in my mind. I remember hearing about Between Shades of Grey. I remember seeing it on the shelves way before I started blogging. I remember resolving to read it later and put it back. Well, now I can say I made one of the biggest mistakes when I put it down. Ruta Sepetys is brilliant – her work nothing short of pure genius. Salt to Sea is only the tip of the ice berg about to crush the flood gate and let the rising tide through.
Salt to Sea takes place in 1945 – four years after the German invasion of Russia during WWII. While the war may be drawing to a close, the terrors are still fresh and a daily occurrence in the eyes of refugees fleeing for a ship off the coast. Then the ship is attacked by a Russian submarine, and the refugees are forced to watch their only chance of hope sink right before their eyes – and then they must find a way to survive.
This book is told through four perspectives: a runaway, a thief, a burdened teen, and a Nazi. Joanna is a runaway from Lithuania and a nurse. Her heritage is what drives her throughout the story, the guilt she feels over abandoning her family to create a future for herself is what fuels her need for survival. She was smart, brave, and oh so strong. Then we have a thief, Florian, who was so complex it was like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube blindfolded (hint: I can’t even solve them with my eyes open). His only goal – despite his random and daring acts of kindness – is to find a way to be free of Germany and all of the pain it represents. Then, my favorite for more reasons than I can possibly describe, Emilia. She broke my heart. She’s just so…. real. No matter what happens and what she had already lived through – she just puts one foot in front of the other and keeps truckin’ on. She refused to give up even when giving up was the easiest thing to do. She was so steadfast, so fierce and shameless in her bravery. It was beautiful. Now, the most surprising of the bunch – Alfred. I have no idea what to say about him…. he is everything I hate about WWII and Germany at the time, and yet… it was so damn interesting to see things through his eyes.
If you’re looking for a happy book, a book that will make you smile and help you sleep at night – turn back now. Salt to Sea was not easy to read in any way, shape, or form. It was painful. Each word was like a sharpened knife with a laser sight set directly on your heart. The war was not kind, we know that from our history – but seeing it like this, having it up all in your face flashing every single thing you never wanted to see and what you wanted to forget even existed… Just wow. I had to put this down more than once and walk away. I had to take breaks. Hell, at one point I even chose to do my homework rather than keep reading because it hurt so much. This doesn’t make light of what happened – nor does it make it so obviously horrible that it becomes trivial. It is a careful balancing act. Humans are a bunch of monsters. That’s something we should never forget.
Salt to Sea is one of those special books. It’s one of those books that forces you to stop and think, to remember. Ruta Sepetys creation is a masterful weaving of history, pain, and what it is like to hope when it seems impossible. If you have any sense at all, you will find this book at the nearest opportunity so that you may share in the pain of millions – even if only for four-hundred pages.