Genre: Historical Fiction
Book Jacket Synopsis: “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, best-selling 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.”
Review: Prior to reading Salt to the Sea, I have to admit that I was unfamiliar with the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff. The ship’s name, and accompanying tragedy, were entirely foreign to me. In hindsight, this appears to be a wide-spread trend, given that the sad tale of the Wilhelm Gustloff has been greatly daunted in the past by other more familiar maritime tragedies, including the sinking of the Titanic and the Lusitania. But Ruta Sepetys is not over-exaggerating when she refers to the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff as the “single greatest tragedy in maritime history;” it is estimated that over 9,000 refugees died in their attempt to escape from the advancing Soviet army during WWII. I believe the power of Salt to the Sea lies in its ability to bring this long-forgotten tragedy to light through the powerful voices of four different characters. Told from these four different perspectives, Salt to the Sea takes the reader into four very different lives, as the heroes and heroines attempt to battle their way onto a ship that they believe will be their salvation. If the colorful and multi-faceted characters don’t draw you in, then the gradually revealed complexities, secrets, and mysteries of their pasts will. It was impossible for me to put Salt to the Sea down. My primary complaint is that the book was too short! I believe Sepetys could have added more length to the book and given the reader an even more in-depth look into her characters’ lives. Overall, I think this novel would have only benefited from a slower pace. But if, as I suspect, Sepety’s measure of success is how many people put down Salt to the Sea and then look up the Wilhelm Gustloff, she certainly succeeded with me.