Welcome back to my second installment of my summer retrospective series! For anyone who doesn’t know, this is a weekly series where I take a look at books from years past and examine them to see if I believe they are worth the hype and praise they received. Basically, just judging how books hold up over time. You can find my full explanation of this series as well as my prospective TBR HERE. This week we will be discussing one of my favorite books from 2016. It’s a historical fiction novel, something I don’t pick up too often, but it really blew me away. And now here we are, I’ve finally reread Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys, and it’s time to answer the question: did the novel live up to my memory of it? *sobbing* yes!
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. –goodreads.com summary
A LITTLE BACKGROUND
Salt to the Sea was a novel that I picked up on a whim back in 2016. I remember seeing it around online, but didn’t really know anything about the plot, nor the heartbreak the story would put me through. With all of that said, I eventually picked up the book and it blew me away! I remember balling my eyes out at the end of the novel and I still consider it one of my favorite novels. Now that I’ve reread Salt to the Sea, I’m still in love with this novel. It is an amazing and eye opening read that brought me to literal tears, and I highly recommend it to everyone.
Okay, just a fair warning, this is probably just gonna be me yelling about how much I love Salt to the Sea, hope you don’t mind 😊 Oh and despite this being based on a historical event, I’m going to avoid mentioning specific plot points because I tend to find books best enjoyed when readers go in blind.
Let me begin by talking about probably my favorite part to Salt to the Sea— the characters! GOSH Ruta Sepetys is the queen of writing realistic characters that I want to know everything about! I can’t even put into words how well her large cast of characters and how I would read about these characters doing literally anything and it would be interesting. I can’t state enough how much I love that Sepetys decided to represent, not only a different POV of WW2 (focusing more on the eastern front of the war) but she also represented many different backgrounds and nationalities in all of her characters. I love all of these characters individually and I just want the best for all of them (aside from Alfred who is just a mess, but I think goes to show how the combination of bigoted brainwashing and a god complex can be dangerous). This love and connection to all of these characters is what makes the lower points in the novel so heartbreaking. It’s what kills me and makes me actually cry, not just tear up, but CRY over this.
But the other aspect of Salt to the Sea which just brings me to tears, is that this is all based off actual events. Novels just hit me so much harder when I know this is all (more or less) something actual people went through. And it’s all made even more depressing by the fact that this isn’t an event usually talked about, at least not here in America.
Which leads me to another reason I love this novel so much— the different take on WW2. It reminds me a lot of The Book Thief in this way, but Salt to the Sea focuses more on characters under German control. While the Germans certainly aren’t good guys, it is more the Russians that are written as the explicit antagonists. I think we (as in Americans) often forget about the atrocities committed by the Soviets (both during and after WW2) because it doesn’t affect like it did people from Eastern Europe. But of course, Sepetys doesn’t forget about the atrocities of the Germans either, and this is even more depressing when looking at characters such as Emilia who has just had her home of Poland torn apart by two warring nations which both consider her to be lesser. (Honestly Poland has been through some shit…) It just sucks to think of people who were stuck in this in between place of nowhere to go… gosh now I’m just making myself depressed.
NOW THAT I’M OFF MY HISTORY TANGENT! Why do I think Ruta Sepetys’s multi POV novel works better than her single POV ones? Well, personally, I think it’s because you see some many different perspectives on the situation. You see everything happening through many different eyes and it kinda adds more nuance to things. I also just think that this novel was more suited to having multi POVs than something like Between Shades of Gray or Out of the Easy so it feels natural.
WHAT’S THE VERDICT?
Ummm if you don’t know by now my ramblings must have been even worse than I originally thought.
Basically, this is still one of my favorite novels of all time and I think everyone should read it. It’s an insanely heartbreaking story, but it’s a story that needs to be told. I really hope more people pick up this, as well as Sepetys’s other novels, because they are all worth the read, and I can’t wait to see whatever she does next. She seems like such a smart and wonderful woman and I would love to sit down and just discuss history with her one day.
COME BACK NEXT FRIDAY WHEN YOU CAN HEAR ME YELL MY THOUGHTS ABOUT SIX OF CROWS (and also possibly All the Bright Places…? I’m still not sure yet…)
Have you read any Ruta Sepetys novels? What is your favorite of her novels? Have you read Salt to the Sea? (you should if you haven’t already!) What’s your favorite novel from 2016?