Salt To The Sea

An advance reader copy was provided free of charge
by Philomel Books through NetGalley
in exchange for my honest opinion.

cover salt to the sea

Historical Fiction of  Deadliest Sinking

Salt To The Sea

by Ruta Sepetys
Philomel Books, February 2016
ARC e-Reader provided for review
Hardcover: 400 pages ( 978-0-399-160301)
Genre: Young Adult/Historical Fiction/Europe

One of my father’s cousins said, “Ruta, you love hidden history. You love historical secrets. I have a story for you.”  And she said those two words: “Wilhelm Gustloff… I had passage on that ship.”

The day of the voyage, fate intervened and my father’s cousin did not get on that Wilhelm Gustloff. And as a result, she survived. 

Ruta Sepetys, author.  Interview with on January 24, 2016

Salt to the Sea brings to life a virtually unknown true maritime tragedy in Eastern Prussia in 1945 during the waning years of World War II.  The sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff still is the world’s deadliest maritime disaster exceeding the loss of life on the better known Titanic and Lusitania combined.

The deaths of these 10,000 passengers is made even more gut-wrenching as we learn through Sepetys’ fictionalized account that the majority of those on board were political refugees seeking refuge and hope for a better life.  Over 5000 were children.

Sepetys, a daughter of a Lithuanian refugee, compelled by her own heritage, has crafted this poignant story of four teenagers caught up in the horrors of this war.  Joana, one of hordes of fleeing Lithuanians, lives in fear of discovery by the Germans and shot as a deserter. Florian, enigmatic and discreet, hides from both the Soviets and Germans.  Emilia, harboring a deep secret, is a young Polish girl squeezed between the invading Soviets and the unraveling Germans. Alfred, a Nazi seaman, is a social misfit with delusions of grandeur serving aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff.

Through these four disparate voices we experience what life must have been like as the war headed toward its inevitable conclusion.  Through these young voices your own senses are assaulted by the inhumanity and the overwhelming helplessness.  Yet in the depths of the deepest despair we are shown that the embers of hope, love and family cannot be extinguished.

This is not an easy read but a necessary read.  With the notoriety of the horrific gas chambers and the beaches and towns of Western Europe, this book puts the lens on Eastern Europe.  Written for a young adult audience, this book will appeal to adults as well.

Highly recommended

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