Book Review: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

A hold-your-breath, slow building and intensely powerful story, Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys is a stunning portrayal of one of the world’s biggest, yet littlest-known tragedies.

salt to the seaBased on the true story of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a luxury ship requisitioned by the Nazis to transport refugees from the Soviet invasion of Germany, Salt to the Sea is a heartfelt and deeply emotional glimpse at the lives of four people in the midst of war and tragedy.

The author of Between Shades of Gray returns to WWII in this epic novel that shines a light on one of the war’s most devastating—yet unknown—tragedies.

In 1945, World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia, and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, almost all of them with something to hide. Among them are  Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer toward safety.

Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.

Salt to the Sea is exquisitely researched and beautifully written. Sepetys has a gift for capturing history, and bringing stark and shocking facts to life through her fictional characters. The lives of Joana, Florian, Emilia, and Alfred may be imagined — but the tragedy they experience really happened, and Sepetys uses her characters to bring this little snippet of history alive.

She delves into the archives for a rich novel, deep with backstory and many layers; the drama is already thick with tension and high stakes, even before the real life tragedy begins to unfold. And I think that’s part of what makes Salt to the Sea so special. Yes, the book is about the Wilhelm Gustloff tragedy. But it’s really about so much more. It’s about these four characters, and glimpse through their lenses at life during one of the world’s darkest times.

Salt to the Sea is a breathtaking must-read story, filled with gumption, heart, and — ultimately — hope. Look for it in stores on February 2nd.

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