Monday, February 8, 2016

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Title: Salt to the Sea
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Philomel Books
Release Date: February 2nd, 2016
Rating: 4/5

The Gist:
In 1945, World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia, and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, almost all of them with something to hide. Among them are  Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer toward safety.

Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.

Salt to the Sea tells the story of four teenagers as they experience the last days of WWII.  As they travel to the ill-fated Wilhelm Gustloff in an attempt to escape the ravages of war, we learn of the hardships they have already endured and watch as even more horrors befall them.  Admittedly, I do not usually seek out novels of this nature, especially those centered around the holocaust (since having children, I just can't handle the subject matter), but nonetheless this is a story I have not read before.  I knew nothing historically about the disaster to come, but did find it a little frustrating that the cover so clearly gives the plot away.  I realize in historical fiction this is a common theme (I wouldn't expect a book about the Titanic to try and hide the fact that the ship was to hit an iceberg) but I find in these cases I have difficulty keeping my interest in the plot because I am waiting for the disaster to strike.   

While Joana, Emilia, and Florian have stories full of heartbreak and sorrow, the fourth, Alfred is best described as putrid.  The more I read in his point-of-view, the more creepy he became.  He is the epitome of a young man who, in his own mind, is special and it is everyone else who is wrong because they are unable to see it.  He is entitled and lazy, finding a myriad of ways to avoid the work required of the other soldiers.  He becomes infuriated when others do not recognize how wonderful he is.  There is an extra, shiver-inducing, layer in his "letters" to a young woman at home that he was clearly obsessed with and who, expectantly, did not share his feelings.  The fact that I am writing this almost a month after reading the book and still want to strangle Alfred myself is a testament to what a well written character he is. 

There are several scenes that were difficult (especially as a mother) to read.  These usually involved children.  There were some heart-wrenching moments for our main characters and their friends, but also a number that happened in the background, in a mere line or two, and had nearly as much impact.  The story is told through the eyes of our four main characters and each of the sections is rather short.  This keeps the plot moving quickly and allows each character's secrets to be revealed slowly.  I was, however, a little disappointed in the ending.  It didn't seem as developed as it could have been and was overly sweet, given the circumstances. 

Bottom Line: Recommending this book for all my historical fiction fans. 


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