Salt to the Sea

Salt to the SeaSalt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a glorious book in that it is easy and engaging, illuminating and despite tragedy, ends with hope.

Everyone knows what happened April 14th and 15th 1912. Everyone has heard about the sinking of the Titanic, but it seems that January 30th, 1945 is a date with no power of recall in the collective memory. Salt to the Sea is about the greatest tragedy in Maritime history that you’ve never heard of. And inside the covers of this book, an imagined history is played out in a vivid manner.

Told in short, snappy chapters from four teenagers points of view, this story reveals the little talked about retreat of the German people as the Russians advanced through Poland towards Berlin in the dying days of the Third Reich. It tells the story of a group of desperate refugees fleeing for their lives and never really knowing who they can trust, even amongst themselves.

The main characters are:

Joana – Lithuanian – guilty
Florian – Prussian – betrayed
Emilia – Polish – victim
Alfred – German – shirker

Far from being confusing, the four storylines weave together, giving some parts of the story in differing points of view, and moving the story forward in each their own way. There are a cast of supporting characters who are a vital part of the story. You will fall in love with the shoe maker. There are no happily ever afters for everyone. But with realistic detail Sepetys reveals the desperation of people fleeing in terror of the oncoming Russians who had a fierce some reputation.

Ten thousand people, possibly five thousand of them children were crammed onto the “Wilhelm Gustloff,” a leisure vessel made for one thousand, to take people through the Baltic sea to the so called safety of Germany in Operation Hannibal.

Fascinating and touching, this book doesn’t go into lengthy descriptions of the ship sinking, rather its focus is squarely on the people it has introduced us to.

A great read and a new insight into history.

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