Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Salt to the Sea - Ruta Sepetys

Salt to the Sea
Title: Salt to the Sea
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Publication Date: 2/2/2016
Pages: 393
Genre: Historical / Young Adult / Fiction
How I Found It: I've read Sepetys's other novel, Between Shades of Gray
Date Completed: 3/6/18

Summary: As WWII comes to a close and Germany is on the brink of collapse, Sepetys follows several characters on their journey to board the ill-fated Wilhelm Gustloff

What I Thought: When I read Sepetys's other novel, Between Shades of Grey, I was captivated by her ability to bring to life a part of history about which I knew so little. She has done it again here. Sepetys has a special skill for finding an obscured moment in time and making her readers wonder why such a captivating story ever fell off the pages of our commonly known history. 

In this instance, Sepetys tells the story of four people: three refugees of varying backgrounds and one Nazi soldier. They each are complex and interesting on their own, but their intersection is well written also. I found it particularly unique that Sepetys chose to give one of her main voices to a dedicated Nazi soldier. It is so rare in literature to see a character like that without remorse and yet still written in a vaguely sympathetic way. I didn't like that character, but his devotion to his cause, however evil, added an interesting element to the story that I don't think we could have gotten with a singular focus on those trying to escape the German and Russian armies. 

I read this book in participation with
Roof Beam Reader's 2018 TBR Pile Challenge.
We don't think much about the German citizens of this era. Those who saw the evil around them and were as anxious to escape it as those targeted by said evil. Sepetys captures several variations of this theme, each with its own nuances. To start with the stories of people often forgotten by history an move into an oft forgotten historical event worked well for me as a reader.

Ultimately, the focal point of the book is the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff. I had absolutely no idea this happened. The ship was a cruise liner tasked with evacuating German refugees as the Russian army advanced. More than 10,000 people were on board the Gustloff, mostly civilians and 5,000 of whom were children. Nearly all of them died when the ship was hit by torpedoes. It's the largest maritime disaster in history. Even more shocking, it wasn't the only such event we have forgotten. In 1945, over 25,000 died in the Baltic Sea alone. 

This is not only a great work of historical fiction (a genre I usually avoid but which Sepetys handles impeccably), it's an important reminder that the casualties of war are not limited to those wearing uniforms or doing the fighting. When events like the sinking of the Gustloff are forgotten, we are losing a vital part of our history and potential deterrent in the face of future conflict. 

This book is part of my 2018 TBR Challenge!
Rating: ★★★★☆
Will I Re-Read: Maybe
Other Books By Ruta Sepetys: Between Shades of Grey

A Reduced Review: As expected, Sepetys offers a masterclass on how to write a work of historical fiction. It's an engaging story with complex characters and it highlights an oft forgotten part, but important part of history. 

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