Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Salt to the Sea by Ruta SepetysTitle: Salt to the Sea
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Series: N/A
Pages: 393
Publisher: Philomel Books
Release Date: February 2nd 2016

      “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.”

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“The bombs began falling. With each explosion, every bone in my body vibrated and hammered, clanging violently against the bell tower that was my flesh.”

Ruta Sepetys’s Salt to the Sea is a moving historical fiction novel that takes its time unfolding the mysteries of each character. Not being familiar with this particular historical event, I went into this knowing very little. Told through alternate points of view, each chapter gives a small glimpse into the four main characters: Joana, Florian, Emilia, and Alfred. It took some time to get used to the abrupt change in narration, as Sepetys only spends a few pages on each character before moving on. However, once you get acquainted with these characters, they hold your attention to the breathtaking end.

It bears noting that the synopsis for this novel is a little incorrect, as two of the four characters are adults and one specifically is twenty one. It doesn’t make much of a difference, but it put me in a different mindset when trying to get a handle on who these characters were. Joana’s story centers around the guilt she carries around. It isn’t revealed until later what she feels guilty about, but it’s a burden that weighs heavy on her. Her training as a nurse makes her irrevocably valuable to those she is traveling with and also opens doors for her and her companions to escape a terrible fate. When we first meet Florian, he’s standoffish and cold. Much of who he is is kept hidden, but as his journey has him crossing paths with the other characters, he slowly opens up. Florian’s connection to characters like Joana and Emilia is hard fought, he resisting most of all, but it is these relationships that play a vital role in how his journey will end.

Emilia is young and desperate. Trying to hide the fact that she is Polish becomes increasingly difficult, but meeting Florian and then Joana may give her a chance to survive in a world where her people have suffered so much at the hands of by both German and Soviet forces. She is both brave and a little naive, but her resilience defines her above all else. Alfred is the only character that I was confused about. Much of his narrative just felt like a young, confused kid running his mouth, not realizing how truly insignificant he was. It wasn’t until later on in the story that I fully understood his role. Though this was a deliberate technique on the author’s part, there were times when Alfred’s POV came up and I really didn’t feel very interested in his perspective.

Salt to the Sea is full of heartbreak, but also exemplifies the power of the human spirit in the face of unspeakable cruelty and tragedy.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★

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41 thoughts on “Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

  1. I’ve read many positive reviews for Salt to the Sea. I’m not familiar with this part of history either, but it sounds like a very compelling period. I love stories that speak to the power of the human spirit, but the journey is very heartbreaking and I don’t always have the mental bravery to read through it. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love your review for this! I bought this a while back for Kindle, and I also have the audiobook version, but never had the chance to read it. I can’t say that I know much about the historical event in question, either, but I always love learning about new things through books. This book seems like something that will both educate and make you think, so I’m looking forward to picking it up.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The best part of the book was the historical information. i felt the format and the many,many narrators were confusing and hard to keep track of, Each character basically stays in character, too, which makes them seem a little predictable. I think Between Shades of Grey, her first, is a superior book

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: The Friday 56: Salt to the Sea | A Kernel of Nonsense

  5. I’m so confused by this book. I almost didn’t read your review because every review I’ve read sheds little to no light on what’s happening in the story. Based on the cover, I think it’s a ship wreck. Are they all floating in the ocean? In a lifeboat? Who else is in the story? Who sank the boat (if I did sink)? This book has been driving me bonkers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • How frustrating for you! Let’s hope I can clarify. The story is more about the journey these various refugees take on their way to the ship called the Wilhelm Gustloff. Paths are crossed, secrets are kept, lies are told, but it all comes to a head on this ship and the sinking of said ship. Think Titanic, but on a much bigger scale. Which is amazing, because I’ve never heard of the sinking of this ship (which isn’t an accident by the way), even thought the loss of lives surpasses the Titanic by thousands. Hope that helps!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m really glad you liked Salt to the Sea. I’ve been seeing it everywhere and then it popped up on sale and I had to get it. From what you wrote, it seems like it’s really a character-based book and I like those if they’re well done! I’ll be reading it soon.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I actually just ordered this book! yayyy! OMG i think I am going to be seriously emotional after reading this 😦 It will be my first time diving into the historical fiction genre and from what I have been hearing, it looks like its going to be a fantastic read. I can’t wait to pick it up! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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