Sunday, March 06, 2016

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Sometimes, a novel comes along that is unforgettable but difficult to summarize without giving too much away. In those cases, I just want to say, if you like this kind of book, try it. That's what happens with Ruta Sepetys' novel Salt to the Sea. If you like forgotten stories of World War II, stories of courage, try this. I can see Salt to the Sea as a recommendation for our book group next year. This is a story so reminiscent of the world's tragedies at the moment as refugees flee their homelands.

In 1945, as the Nazi world imploded, refugees from all over fled toward the sea, trying to escape the invading Russians. Three teenagers are among those heading for safety, but they're in danger even as they flee. And, a fourth teen is waiting at a port. The Germans have not yet told people they could evacuate, so the fleeing refugees are hiding from Russians, from Nazis, and from anyone who would look for papers or ask too many questions.

Joana left Lithuania in 1941. She's had some medical training, and she's an essential part of the small party she's traveling with. But, Joana travels with guilt. Florian is a Prussian with his own secrets. He would prefer to travel by himself, but somehow he ended up with Emilia, a fifteen-year-old Polish girl. Both Florian and Emilia have secrets. And, waiting at a port on the Baltic Sea is Alfred, a seventeen-year-old fighting for the Fuhrer, serving on the ship the Wilhelm Gustloff. If the refugees can make it to the Wilhelm Gustloff, they know they'll be safe.

When you think of World War II, do you think of the thousands of refugees caught between two armies, people that both armies sought to destroy? And, do you think of the refugees as small groups of teenagers and children and the elderly, the ones left after war and genocide? Sepetys' style of telling the story, in the voices of the four characters, brings this account to life, making it all the more horrific. The reader starts to care about most of them, and it's obvious that they're facing tragedy, even if you only look at the cover illustration.

Salt to the Sea is a haunting, unforgettable story, one that resonates right now. Once again, our children are on the move. Rita Sepetys' novel may be a story from history, but it's a story that could be from today.

Ruta Sepetys' website is

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys. Phloem Books. 2016. ISBN 9780399160301 (hardcover), 391p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.


Clea Simon said...

this does sound intriguing! Thanks for the head's up.

Lesa said...

It's a tearjerker at the end, Clea, but, then, what WWII story isn't?