I am a big fan of historical fiction but some authors just do not write it well. I know it’s hard, I’ve tried my hand at some historical-ish fanfiction and while it turned out okay I’m sure I messed up some of the vernacular and had some poor word choices going on. But Ruta Sepetys does a wonderful job. She’s able to make it so that you feel like you’re really there with the characters while you’re reading and, since she deals with such heartbreaking periods of time, that is a very powerful thing.
Salt to the Sea introduces the reader to four very different characters who are alive in the winter of 1945. Joana, Florian, Emilia and Alfred. They are each of a different nationality and have very different backgrounds but they all end together aboard the ship called the Wilhelm Gustloff which was used as a German military ship during World War II.
As the passenger count rose and rose I couldn’t help but spoil the story a little bit because I just had to see if the numbers were real. Yes, the Wilhelm Gustloff was only built to hold 1,465 passengers. And yes, when the ship left harbor in 1945 she was holding 10,582 passengers and crew, half of which were young children. You can only imagine how heartbreaking the results were when, (now I don’t think I’m spoiling much since the book blurb mentions that there’s a maritime disaster) the ship gets hit by torpedoes.
Now the breakdown was a little interesting. Each passage/chapter was from the perspective of one of the four main characters and was very short, two-six pages on average. But I felt that the character’s voices were strong enough and different enough that I was able to get a real sense of who they were and what was going on. It was easy to follow and the quick pace made it feel desperate, which I’m sure was exactly what the refugees and Nazis were feeling during the war. I really felt for the characters, and utterly despised one of them.
All in all, Salt to the Sea was a well written, very emotional read. I will be keeping my out for everything Ms. Sepetys writes.