salt to the sea – ruta sepetys | review + discussion

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
Published February 2nd 2016 by Philomel Books
Genre: historical fiction, young adult, war, WWII

links: Goodreads | Book Depository

rating: ★★★★★


While the Titanic and Lusitania are both well-documented disasters, the single greatest tragedy in maritime history is the little-known January 30, 1945 sinking in the Baltic Sea by a Soviet submarine of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a German cruise liner that was supposed to ferry wartime personnel and refugees to safety from the advancing Red Army. The ship was overcrowded with more than 10,500 passengers — the intended capacity was approximately 1,800 — and more than 9,000 people, including 5,000 children, lost their lives. 

Sepetys (writer of ‘Between Shades of Gray’) crafts four fictionalized but historically accurate voices to convey the real-life tragedy. Joana, a Lithuanian with nursing experience; Florian, a Prussian soldier fleeing the Nazis with stolen treasure; and Emilia, a Polish girl close to the end of her pregnancy, converge on their escape journeys as Russian troops advance; each will eventually meet Albert, a Nazi peon with delusions of grandeur, assigned to the Gustloff decks.


when i first started getting into the book, i thought it was odd that every chapter was so short, and it often jumps around in the four main characters’ pov. i expected the pace to be disrupted and reading would be difficult but in this case, it worked very well with the story the author was telling. ruta sepetys masterfully told a story set in a very difficult and horrendous time in history.

historical fiction especially about World War II is out of my comfort zone. ruta sepetys did a fantastic job plunging me into the book with her words. i couldn’t help but feel invested in each of the character’s stories and the horror of war felt vivid. all of them were interesting characters with lots of secrets. i’m not going to delve deeper into each character. the circumstances they had to endure to grow into matured people, their resilience and cowardly behaviours should be discovered by you with fresh eyes.

my words wouldn’t do this book justice. it was a haunting, dark book about the terrors of WWII. it felt insanely real. people were fighting for their life, trying to get to safety, and sometimes that comes with a price. you never know when you were going die and how you’re going to die. by an overhead bomb, a ship sinking, being trampled upon by hundreds of people while fleeing, shot by soldiers? you are never safe in the world, you are never safe in the place you always called home. you are forced to leave, to escape, to fear. if not you’d end up dead. all hope seemed lost. people become vicious. people become kind. people become hungry. people become tired. there seemed to be no ending. will it end when you die? will it end and you still live? every day is a question mark, every day is an unknown, every day you are running away. all those emotions were portrayed beautifully by ruta sepetys’s work.

it read in a way which is so fast-paced and engaging. salt to the sea was a touching, horrifying story set in ww2. it was a deadly tragedy, it was a nightmare, it was one of the largest catastrophe. i never thought i could read a story about ww2. it’d have been too real, too shocking, too scary to even think about what people had gone through during that period. upon reading salt to the sea, it really opened my eyes.

i knew by the end of it all, some of those people won’t survive. i was devastated when emilia and heinz passed. they did all of it just so someone else can live. oh i hated that ingrid died in the frozen river. it hurts so much, she was a kind person. some people don’t deserve to die, dies while others who should, survives.

alfred is always “writing” these mental letters to hannerlore and it’s bloody creepy. what he’s mentioning is vastly different from what’s happening in real life. it’s as if he’s living in his own world where he’s an important part of the system, when he’s actually just a normal soldier.

the shoemaker is an amazing, wonderful old man. so freaking brave too. i was devastated when he died. he died saving florian’s life. oh god, that got me crying.

i felt so bad for emilia. when she found out that there’s no august. and she gave birth to a beautiful girl in the middle of the ship crowded by so many freaking women. fighting for her own life while bringing a life into the world. WHAT A WOMAN. emilia was alive, she managed to cling onto a raft. but she wasn’t saved. there weren’t enough boats, there weren’t a rescue. not fast enough. she died because no one saw her floating in that dark, cold and vast ocean. that got me thinking how many people could have survived if they were seen.

witnessing how people of opposing side were able to work together and help each other in the worst time ever. despite their countries raging war, they helped and provided shelter for others. showed the light during the darkness, and the humanity in people during such times.

witnessing how people of opposing side were able to work together and help each other in the worst time ever. despite their countries raging war, they helped and provided shelter for others. showed the light during the darkness, and the humanity in people during such times.

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