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I don't read much historical fiction but I've had a bit of an interest in World War II since I first studied it in school. Ever since then, I've sought out books that are set in that time period. I surprisingly still haven't read that many (possibly a sign of my fussiness) but I absolutely loved The Book Thief and Salt to the Sea seemed like it might work for me in a similar way. I was right.
Salt to the Sea is based around the sinking of the ship Wilhelm Gustloff and the loss of thousands upon thousands of people; the majority of which being children. Despite being one of the deadliest maritime disasters in history, very few people know of it. I certainly hadn't heard of it before and it really saddens me that the death of so many people has been forgotten about. Ruta Sepetys has done a wonderful job of bringing this truly heartbreaking story to light.
“War had bled color from everything, leaving nothing but a storm of gray.”
The story is told through four alternating points of view. I was worried at first that it would be difficult to keep track of who was who, and for a little bit in the beginning it was, but the chapters are so small that you aren't away from people for too long. That really helped to stay connected to the character even whilst in someone else's viewpoint before returning to them.
Florian and Joana are instantly likeable and I loved the blossoming relationship between the two of them. Emilia was harder to connect with at first but the more you begin to understand her the more likable she becomes. Alfred.. Alfred is a psychopath. At first he's weird and I felt a bit sorry for him and then we see more and more of his psychotic and hateful thoughts. His actions at times were unbelievably horrible. Alfred mixed with Nazi propaganda and brainwashing is a repulsive mix.
“War is catastrophe. It breaks families in irretrievable pieces. But those who are gone are not necessarily lost.”
Despite knowing what happens to the ship, and knowing I was going to be in for heartbreak, I was still hit with a load of emotions when things begin to go drastically wrong. I was hoping for survival and happy endings but in a time of war, not everyone gets to have a happy ending. War results in the death of so many innocent people, thousands of them, and hope is something very scarce. Salt to the Sea shines light on a story that has been forgotten and reminds us of the innocent bystanders who lost everything and who deserve to be remembered.