Julie Christine's Reviews > Salt to the Sea

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
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Mar 12, 2016

really liked it
bookshelves: east-central-europe, historical-fiction, read-2016, war-conflict, best-of-2016

When the survivors are gone we must not let the truth disappear with them. Please, give them a voice. Ruth Sepetys, Salt to the Sea

Sepetys, an author new to me, offers up four distinct voices in this novel that brings to light a little-known maritime disaster near the end of World War II: the sinking of the German ship Wilhelm Gustloff in January 1945.

As the Russian army advanced across the Baltics, thousands of refugees throughout northeastern Europe piled into German ports, seeking passage on a ship bound for anywhere but here. We see the winter overland journey of Joana, a Lithuanian nurse; Emilia, a damaged and vulnerable Polish girl; Florian, a Prussian with a letter of safe passage from a high-ranking Nazi official. And waiting in port is Alfred, a skittish, off-kilter German sailor. The chapters alternate from one character to the next in short, intense bursts of thought and action.

Sepetys maintains a feverish tension as Joana, Florian, Emilia and a cast of secondary characters make their way across the frozen Prussian landscape toward the German port of Gotenhafen, where the Wilhelm Gustloff awaits–a ship built for 1300 passengers that eventually casts off with over 10,000 souls aboard. Each of the three carries secrets that are artfully revealed in setting and circumstance. Once in Gotenhafen, the scope of the humanitarian disaster that was Germany in 1945 is revealed in cinematic fashion, culminating in jaw-grinding scenes of the Wilhelm Gustloff's final hours.

I was surprised to learn after finishing this lovely, sorrowful novel that it is categorized as Young Adult. Is it because these characters are still in their teens? I forgot this completely as I read, for these young people endure hardships with a grace and defiance that surpasses chronological age, and Ms. Sepetys gives them a full range of responses and depth of character that belies their youth. Is it because the chapters are short? Whatever. I encourage you to set aside category assumptions. This novel can certainly be read and felt deeply by a mature adolescent—but this adult felt no lack of narrative complexity and certainly had no idea she wasn't, perhaps, the intended audience.

This is a finely-crafted, painstakingly-researched work of historical fiction that opens the heart to an astonishing story as much as it brings to the intellect something new to consider about a war that seems so familiar. A war for which there are still so many stories yet to be told.

Highly recommended.
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Reading Progress

March 12, 2016 – Shelved
March 12, 2016 – Shelved as: to-read
May 2, 2016 – Started Reading
May 5, 2016 –
page 60
15.27% "Truly don't enjoy the multiple POVs, switching from chapter to chapter, but you all have convinced me this is worth the read, so I soldier on. And yes, several of these characters have captured my heart, particularly the nurse."
May 7, 2016 –
page 227
57.76% "Just when you think there cannot be another good read about WWII, another good one comes along..."
May 8, 2016 – Shelved as: east-central-europe
May 8, 2016 – Shelved as: historical-fiction
May 8, 2016 – Shelved as: read-2016
May 8, 2016 – Shelved as: war-conflict
May 8, 2016 – Finished Reading
May 10, 2016 – Shelved as: best-of-2016

Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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Brooke Waite Lovely review Julie! I thought the same thing after realizing it was categorized as YA....I thought, if this is young adult then I've been reading the wrong genre :)
Have you read her other 'young adult' novel 'Between Shades of Gray?' You'd probably really enjoy that one as well!


Sara I am sorry books like this get cast into the YA category. It often causes me to miss them, since that is not a genre I gravitate toward. Marvelous review.


message 3: by Gracie (new)

Gracie I like thus book.


Julie Christine Sara wrote: "I am sorry books like this get cast into the YA category. It often causes me to miss them, since that is not a genre I gravitate toward. Marvelous review."

Thank you, Sara!


Suzy I just finished this, Julie, and loved re-experiencing it anew through your eloquent review. I especially resonated with your point about the "true humanitarian disaster that was Germany in 1945". So much about the war that we don't know today! I did not know this was categorized YA and would not have guessed that while reading.


Julie Christine Suzy wrote: "I just finished this, Julie, and loved re-experiencing it anew through your eloquent review. I especially resonated with your point about the "true humanitarian disaster that was Germany in 1945". ..."
Love your comment so much, Suzy. Thank you!


message 7: by Renata (new) - added it

Renata Thank you for your beautiful review and bringing this book to my attention: I’m definitely addin ity


Julie Christine Renata wrote: "Thank you for your beautiful review and bringing this book to my attention: I’m definitely addin ity" Have you had a chance to read this, Renata? Would love to know what you think!


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