Author: Ruta Sepetys
Released: February 2nd 2016
Length: 393 pages
Source: Publisher for review
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.
With three extremely successful novels behind her, Ruta Sepetys has very little to prove as a YA historical fiction writer. In fact, when we think about the best in the genre, her name is the first that comes to mind. I don’t think there’s anyone quite as skilled in combining fiction and fact, uncovering hidden parts of history and making us care deeply about every one of her characters. Each of them is a product of their circumstances, each tragic in a unique, but somehow familiar way.
The best kind of historical fiction is the one you learn from. Sepetys does an extraordinary amount of research and she always chooses less known parts of history. The story of MV Wilhelm Gustloff was buried under politics for far too long. The fact that the ship was a Nazi ship and that it carried German civilians and military personnel was obviously a factor when history books were being written. Be that as it may, the Wilhelm Gustloff tragedy remains to this day the largest loss on life on a single ship in history, with 6 times more casualties than the Titanic.
Ruta Sepetys is a master storyteller. In Salt to the Sea, she places four characters of different nationalities, with different priorities and different goals on a colliding path and gives us a chance to watch them transform. When faced with the cruelties of war, winter and the biggest tragedy in maritime history, Joana, Florian, Emilia and Alfred must completely reshape their worlds if they wish to survive. Theirs is a profoundly touching journey with the power to change the way we view history.
Ruta paints these historical facts with a sure hand, relying on an unholy amount of research, but she never burdens her story with too many historical facts. She chooses her battles carefully and writes novels that are very human and focused on individuals. Like her previous novels, Salt is very painful, but it carries a message of hope and the strength of human spirit.
Salt to the Sea solidifies Ruta Sepetys as an author I not only love, but respect beyond measure. It takes a very special kind of person to do what she does in such an understated, yet masterful way. Maggie Stiefvater called this novel ‘confident and stylish’ and as usual, her words sum things up perfectly. The only thing I can add to that is my heartfelt recommendation.
A copy of this book was kindly provided by the publisher for review purposes. No considerations, monetary or otherwise, have influenced the opinions expressed in this review.