Re-read ~ Finished 1st June ~ Physical Copy ~ Link to Goodreads
World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, many 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 to safety.
Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people—adults and children alike—aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.
I first read Salt to the Sea 2 years ago and it fast became a favourite of mine.
I have been in a big reading slump for so long now that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get through this a second time around. I’d tried re-reading favourites to get me back into reading a few times and it hadn’t worked yet.
This was different though. I found I was pulled right between the pages from the first chapter. This novel is told from 4 different perspectives and it alternates between them so the chapters are only 2 or 3 pages long. This could’ve been a disaster as it doesn’t give you a lot of time to get to know them before moving onto the next character and its then about 10 pages and 3 other characters before getting back to the first. I feel like Ruta has really skilfully avoided this pitfall though. Each character is a fully realised person and so well fleshed out that it makes it impossible for you to forget them while reading the viewpoints of the others. I felt like I knew enough to be intrigued and interested in each character from very early on and I really cared about what was happening with them each step of the way.
The writing style was quite captivating. The imagery used is beautiful and really paints a vivid picture in your mind without being overly descriptive or rambling on. I find for my reading taste this can be quite a fine line because I love to be able to see, clearly, what the author saw while writing but I want it to be written into the story in a clever way where it’s weaved into the characters speech and movements and not just a whole paragraph about how things looked. I think this was done wonderfully and I even wrote some notes in my journal about subtle ways she did this for me to take on board when writing my own novels.
The plot was the biggest plus to this book though. Set in WW2 this novel is based on a true event, the biggest maritime disaster, the sinking of Wilhelm Gustloff. I am sucker for anything based around WW2 and I find this time in history absolutely fascinating but I had never heard of this before reading Salt to the Sea for the first time. The first 60% of the book talks about thousands of people evacuating their towns and villages and making their way toward a harbour with the hopes of escaping to somewhat safer ground. It gives you a glimpse at what I believe must have been very real fears and struggles and emotions of these civilians, most of which were seen as less than dirt by the nazis. The other 40% of the book shows the panic of people trying to get passage on the ships, usually in underhanded ways. I think the book has done really well at not only educating me on a disaster that has been overlooked as just a product of war but also captivating the fears of people going through the situations
It is really rare for a book or movie to reel me in enough for me to get emotional but this book succeeded in doing it both times. Even though this time round I remembered enough to know what happened I still felt invested emotionally. The only downside for me was I would have preferred a different ending. The ending was not necessarily bad but I just think it would’ve been slightly better the way I pictured it in my mind.
Have you read Salt to the Sea?
What is your favourite time period to read about?
What was the last great book you read?
Let me know in the comments or over on Twitter (@KissedDaisy)