[Review] Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Publisher and Publication Date: Penguin Teen. 2019.
Genre: Historical fiction. Young adult.
Pages: 379.
Format: Paperback.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Young adult readers to adult readers who enjoy reading historical fiction from World War II.
Rating: Excellent.

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It is January 1945. Several people are in route to the northern coast of Germany so they can escape the war and the approaching Russians. They are refugees.

The main characters are young adults. Most are in their teen years. It is a mix of young men and young women.

Each want to secure passage on the ship, Wilhelm Gustloff, it is a ship that will take them away from the harrowing life they’ve lived. The ship is a savior of sorts in their minds. It will take them to a new life.

My Thoughts:

As many World War II and Holocaust stories that I’ve read and I have not heard of this ship’s tragedy!

There are several elements I love about this story.

1. The form or structure is from the perspective and voice of four people. Each are given a chapter with their name as the heading. I enjoyed reading the overall story from the perspective of the four characters.

2. I’m reminded a bit of Hemingway’s writing style. He too wrote crisp and short sentences. And the dialogue is the mainstream of the story.

3. During the course of the characters sharing, I am told about their background. In most stories, the background and descriptions of the characters are shown in the beginning. In Salt to the Sea, I am given the background and descriptive information during the whole of the story. These things are revealed slowly but naturally.

4. It is a heavy story. It is heavy with feelings of fear, anxiety, weariness, angst, and moments of despair. These are people who have endured years of war. The trauma of what they’ve seen and personally experienced is imbedded in their hearts and minds and bodies. Their plight is what kept me reading. It is what drew me into the story at the first page.

5. The internal and external conflicts are extremely strong.

6. Even though the characters share a common goal to survive. It is interesting they are segregated by their ethnicity and heritage. This causes feelings of isolation and insecurity.

Do I have a favorite character among them? Joana. She is indispensable because of her nursing skills. I believe she is probably the most important character in the story. She is able to care for people despite their ethnicity which made her likable and heroic.

How does the story make me feel? War is a horrible event. It is not just the military who fight and are affected. The civilians are always impacted. Obviously, the Russians ignore The Geneva Conventions.

Themes: survival, war, bravery, courage, kindness, honesty, betrayal, death and dying, resistance, trust, grief, hope, injustice, suffering, romance, sacrifice, power of love, and good and evil.


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