Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four secrets.
Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies…and war.
As thousands of desperate refugees flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom.
Yet not all promises can be kept.
Inspired by the single greatest tragedy in maritime history, bestselling and award-winning author Ruta Sepetys lifts the veil on a shockingly little-known casualty of World War II. An illuminating and life-affirming tale of heart and hope.
Published: 16th February 2016
If you’ve been here a while, you would know that I absolutely adore historical fiction and even just history in general. My favourite though would be the history of Nazi Germany. I don’t know why but something about Hitler’s rule and WWII has always fascinated me immensely and because of that, I pride myself on knowing as much as I can about it.
So when I heard of Salt and The Sea and found out that it was about WWII and about the Wilhelm Gustloff, which was deemed the ‘single greatest tragedy in maritime history’, I was very surprised. How could I not know about a ship that was torpedoed and upon which over 9,000 people died? How did that happen?
Turns out that a lot of people actually knew nothing about the Wilhelm Gustloff. Apparently it was something of a secret of war. Apparently this disaster was greater then the Titanic. The Titanic?? I mean I am obsessed with the Titanic and it’s sinking and to me, that’s the worst thing that ever happened out at sea. How did I not know about this greater tragedy?
It really made me realise that there is still a lot that we do not know about WWII and that we might never know.
I did a lot of research into the Wilhelm Gustloff while reading and after reading Salt To The Sea and I was very happy to see that Ruta really did her research and portrayed a very accurate picture of what happened on the 30th of January 1945 as well as what happened before that.
She actually interviewed survivors of the tragedy and that was how she built her story which I always highly respect.
The story flowed very well and I enjoyed the short but impactful chapters that overall aided in making the story worth that much more.
The book was narrated by 4 different young adults and each of them had very distinct and unique voices.
Emilia was my favourite narrator simply because of her innocence and her good heart. From the very first chapter that she narrated, I knew that she was going to be the best person. My heart broke so many times over the course of the book for Emilia and I was just constantly amazed at her selflessness and her refusal to give up and her loyalty to the people that took her in.
It’s impossible not to like Joana. She was the character that rallied everyone together. She made sure she got everyone to safety before she let herself relax. She fiercely protected her makeshift family and did everything in her power to save everyone. Reading from her perspective was just really calming. You could tell that everything was going to be okay even just from listening to her thoughts.
Florian was probably my second favourite narrator. He started out as stoic and rough but really showed his love and his goodness later on especially with Emilia. Even though he had to do some pretty harsh things, he was still good deep in his heart and I liked that. My favourite part of his was when he hauled a dying woman into a lifeboat despite the fact that there was another person screaming that an extra person would capsize them. He got her into the boat and then screamed at the person to just shut up. My heart just swelled at that.
I have read books which have been narrated by Nazi soldiers and people who are loyal to Hitler but never have I encountered a character as despicable and disgusting as Alfred. I hated Alfred from the very beginning. So Alfred’s story was mainly told through his mental letters to a girl he loved back home called Hannelore. I don’t know if this has anything to do with the fact that he is a typical male but his ‘letters’ of course made him seem like he was this great big important guy serving Hitler and that he was one of the best of the best when in fact, he was the ‘bedwetter’ to all his colleagues and was considered the lowest form of marine life as my dad likes to put it.
It wasn’t that he made himself greater then he actually was that turned me off him. What turned me off was his blatant disregard for women and children in general. I mean I know that Hitler conditioned most men in Nazi Germany to think of women as lowly and unworthy of anything but I just couldn’t handle Alfred’s way of thinking.
There was one point in the book where he was mentally talking to Hannelore about the pregnant refugees and he blamed the woman for getting pregnant. He blamed the woman! As if it’s just the woman who is involved in the conceiving of a child!
There was also loads of other instances. Like he stole a lifejacket from a woman and then forced himself into a lifeboat while disregarding the thousands of woman and children that were still on the ship.
I hated him. You could say that this way of thinking was a consequence of war but I don’t believe that. You have to be a special kind of evil to act the way Alfred did.
Overall I really enjoyed Salt To The Sea. I was disappointed that it didn’t end up making me cry but I thought that the story was very powerful and ultimately, it was simply something that everyone needs to read.
I for one am so glad that I now know about this ship and it’s demise. I’m glad that I got to find out so much more about where the shipwreck is, how divers are still looking for the Amber Room and about how divers say that the Baltic ocean is haunting to be in simply because an estimated 25,000 people died in it because of the war.
Actually, I was reading a diver’s recount of his dive down to the Gustloff (which apparently is illegal now because the Gustloff is a registered war grave) and he said that he saw a skeleton that was still wearing his uniform and his boots.
It’s so important that we keep these stories alive. That we keep telling them so everyone knows and no one forgets. Everyone deserves to know about the Wilhelm Gustloff. None of the atrocities committed during the war deserves to be forgotten.