Jessica's books

The One and Only Ivan
Revolutionary War on Wednesday
Leprechaun in Late Winter
Ella Enchanted
The Courage of Sarah Noble
Plain Murder
Gone-Away Lake
Circling the Sun
Maggie and Max
The Haunting of Sunshine Girl
The Night Sister
Tuck Everlasting
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Bedknob and Broomstick
Mister Monday
Alice Through the Looking Glass
The Birchbark House
The Hobbit
The Witch's Daughter

Jessica's favorite books »

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Book Review: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Synopsis (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.

My Thoughts:

This is the second book that Ms. Sepetys has written about World War II.  What I really appreciate about both Salt to the Sea and Shades of Gray are that they are about a part of the war that many of us don't learn much about.  We all know the atrocities committed by Hitler against the Jewish people and those he found "inferior."  I don't feel that many people learn a lot of Stalin and the struggles of the Lithuanians.  In fact, until I read Shades of Gray, I knew nothing about any of that.  I have to appreciate a story that teaches us about another aspect of the war.  I think we can all stand to learn more history.  

Salt to the Sea takes us back to World War II and the tragic sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a German ship that was overfilled with refugees fleeing the country.  The Wilhelm Gustloff was a real ship that was actually sunk but until this book, I had never heard of it. 
The book is told from alternating views (Joana, Florian, Emilia and Alfred) and starts with a group of refugees fleeing from the Russian soldiers that are invading Germany and Poland.  They are traveling to Gotenhafen, on the coast of the Baltic Sea.  The group includes Joana, Eva, a blind girl (whose name is completely slipping my mind at the moment), the Shoe Poet and the Wandering Boy. This group meets up with a German soldier, Florian, and a Polish girl, Emilia.  
Joana is a Lithuanian nurse and feels an incredible need to help people.  She is also carrying a very guilty conscious and a sad secret.  Eva is a giant of a woman who speaks her mind in a "sorry, not sorry" kind of way.  The shoe poet was one of my favorite characters.  He was an older gentleman who was a shoemaker and did his very best to keep everyone's spirits up.  He was the sunshine in that group.  The Wandering Boy (Klaus) was a child that was fleeing with his grandmother until the morning when his grandmother simply didn't wake up.  
Florian is a German who was working with Gauleiter Erich Koch.  He was unwittingly aiding the Germans in their theft of priceless art.  Florian was gifted with being able to copy any document almost to perfection, a gift that comes in very handy for him.  After finding out that he has been deceived, Florian is on the run with a secret of his own.
Emilia was sent by her father to a farm for safety.  Little did he know that his daughter was not at all safe and she ends up running away from the farm with a heavy burden.  She meets Florian when Florian saves her from a Russian soldier.  Florian is also wounded and the two are lucky to meet up with Joana's group.
The story is also told from Alfred's point of view.  Alfred is a character that I hated with every single fiber of my being.  He was your typical Nazi.  He felt that the "superior" race was the only race that should be alive.  The funny thing about Alfred is that he is so far from "superior" that it's amazing that he even got into the German Army.  He is weak and sick, not to mention quite crazy (or maybe just brainwashed).  He made up letters in his head to a girl and tells her about how important he is when in reality he is a nobody in the army.

Once they get to the Wilhelm Gustloff, the group is loaded on board the ship along with 10,000 other crew and refugees.  The ship's capacity was only1,880.  Russian torpedoes sink the ship hours after it left the coast and resulted in over 9,000 deaths. 

The short chapters, alternating views and constant activity made this book hard to put down.  I was able to read it very quickly, connect with most of the characters and was heartbroken at the end.  The only thing I wish was that the conclusion of the story was a little....more.  You find out what happens to the majority of the characters (except Eva...I wanted to know if Eva made it) but you don't really find out if Florian found his sister or Joana found her mother.  I would have liked a little more in depth explanation as to how they got to where they were but that is my only complaint about the book. 

I think this is a fascinating story about a part of history that many people have never even heard about.  I think it's a book everyone should read, to be honest.  I definitely recommend it!

1 comment:

  1. Totally agree. I loved this book! Glad you did, too.