Ruta Sepetys’ words are what amazes and captures the readers just as vividly as her characters, situations, and history in her soon-to-be-published, Salt to the Sea.
It’s 1945, the world is warring and there are many who are fleeing their homelands in the hope of a rebirth elsewhere. Joana is a nurse with a desire to escape her self-imposed brand as a murderer, Florian is a Prussian who holds secrets that can potentially kill him, Emilia is a Polish girl who’s devastating circumstances have left her needing a savior, whom she finds in Florian, and Alfred is a self-involved but insecure German soldier looking for glory. The four of their narrations brings the book together to share their and others’ fates. Just because others in the story including the cobbler poet, the runaway boy, and the giantess woman are not telling their story, doesn’t mean they are any less a part of the devastating survival tale that is fraught with lies, ambition, sentimentality and longing for the past or their homeland.
There is a painful arc to the story as the characters escape imminent death in one way and find themselves on a collision course for it a second time when they end up on the ship, the Wilhelm Gustloff, as it’s torpedoed by the Russians and thousands perish.
The bond readers develop with the characters as they suffer their fates both death and life are shocking, tragic, and uplifting. The last chapter made me cry. Sepetys is a gifted storyteller weaving the tales of the true experiences and while I appreciate the publisher’s comparisons in the summary, the only one I can agree with is Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See in it’s depth. There is an accessibility that only Sepetys can do so well targeting both young adults and adults with a tale rich in detail. Images like the pink hat and the amber swan coupled with dead families in their rooms and children being tossed helplessly onto a ship too high to be reached will stay with any reader for a lifetime.
It begs to be re-read.