Hey lovely readers!
Today’s post is a book review of Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys. And it’s probably going to be a lengthy one 🙂
“World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, many 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 to safety.
Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people—adults and children alike—aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.”
It’s difficult to know where to begin this review. But I think the best place to start is with a little bit of history. The sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff is the biggest sea disaster in history and yet so few people know it occurred. I am a huge history nerd. I majored in history in college actually, specifically European history, and all things related to World War II. So for me the tragedy of this book was well known. I have read so many books on World War II both fiction and non I’ve lost count. But there was something so different about this book.
Throughout the book we get the perspectives of four very different young adults. Each has their own secrets and burdens to bear. I don’t want to talk too much about the characters and their stories, because learning what happened to them as you read is a large part of what makes the book so powerful. There is one character that I do want to talk a bit about. Alfred is a young man who has joined the German Navy and very much believes in what Hitler stands for. Like I said, I’ve read so many books on World War II but never have I read a story from the POV of someone like Alfred. His parts are largely written to a girl he likes back in his home town and because of this there is a lot of honesty and intimate thoughts. It was both fascinating and frightening to read Alfred’s thoughts and hear his reasons for the things he believes. At one point he even mentions reading Hitler’s book.
The thing is, I’ve read that book and it is both terrible and amazing. The fact that Alfred puts so much faith in this book and Hitler broke my heart. Because, you see, by giving us the POV of someone like Alfred, Ruta forces us to confront something. We must confront Hitler, the Nazis, the sympathizers, the Germans, and others who supported Hitler were just people. Ordinary people living their lives who got swept up in the terrible dreams of a mad man. The book focuses on refugees making their way to a safer area of Germany in hopes of escaping the Russian occupation. And again we are presented with a unique perspective. It is so easy to vilify Germany during this time, to think only of Nazis and concentration camps and evil. But the truth is that there were so many innocents within Germany and the surrounding area who got caught up in this terrible war. So many people who disagreed with what was happening and tried to help while also trying to survive.
I just can’t get this book out of my head. The scenes describing the brutality of war, the feeling of losing hope while at the same time trying to stay positive. The loss of life, the heartbreak, the will to survive. And in between it all, the possibility of love. This was such a beautiful, powerful story and I urge you all to give it a chance.
Thanks for reading guys! Talk to you soon! ❤ Adrianna
*Cover and synopsis from Goodreads
*I do not own any of these images