One of the things that I’ve really loved about being involved in book clubs is that it’s made me read some books that I wouldn’t have picked up otherwise, it’s encouraged me to read more, and it’s helped me to read books that I’ve wanted to read that I haven’t made time for yet. The last point was definitely applicable to last month’s Beyond Words: A Blogger’s Book Club’s, headed by Christy and Carolann, selection of The Light Between Oceans, and this month’s selection of Salt To The Sea is the exact same.
I’m a huge fan of WWII fiction, so Salt To The Sea had definitely peaked my interest with the description, but also because a few fellow bloggers had mentioned it before so it was added to my ever growing TBR list. It might have gotten lost on there for a while, so thank goodness it was chosen this month for book club!
Salt To The Sea follows four young adults and teenagers who are caught up in the tumult towards the end of WWII. In 1945 the Nazis are being pursued by the Russians from the east and the Americans and British are pushing in the west. Thousands upon thousands of refugees from Prussia, Lithuania, and Poland are fleeing the oncoming Russians and their brutality, and their only hope for survival is to board one of the few ships in a port city to escape back to Germany. Each of the teenagers has a past that is currently haunting them and on their journey towards escape from the Russians, they each must come to terms with their demons.
This book is a young adult book, so it read very fast, but oh my goodness does this book deal with some very adult and heart wrenching topics. In the author’s note at the end of the book, Ruta Sepetys said that she wanted to write this book from the eyes of young adults and teenagers because they were the ones that were most effected by the war, and I couldn’t agree more with her. Not only did the point of views work really well in this book, but that generation lived with the effects of WWII for the rest of their lives.
Obviously war is something that will always have casualties and will always be brutal, but just to hear about all the atrocities that were happening to innocent civilians on both sides was so horrible to me. One part of the book described how many refugees were trying to cross a frozen over lake and as they were trying to cross Russian planes fired into ice causing many people to fall into the water and freeze to death. All they were trying to do was survive and escape the brutality that was coming, but obviously they were viewed as the enemy by the Russians.
Once the characters have made it to the port city, they’re all granted passage on one of the ships making its way back to Germany. They all view this as their chance to be saved until the ship that more than 10,000 injured soldiers, refugees, and other soldiers is hit by torpedoes from a Russian submarine causing the most devastating loss in maritime history.
The Nazis really were trying to save as many people as possible from the oncoming Russians, so they had way more people packed onto the ships than they should have. When the ship was hit it caused a widespread panic amongst the passengers, and Ruta Sepetys did a fantastic job of bringing that chaotic scene to life. I felt like I was really transported back to that scene, and I could easily see many of the things that she described happening.
I personally don’t have that much knowledge about what happened in Eastern Europe during WWII, but this book made me want to learn more. Everybody knows that the Nazis murdered millions of Jews and homosexuals and gypsies during the Holocaust, but I had no idea that many other nationalities like the Poles and Czechs were also viewed as sub human and brutalized as well. One of the characters was Polish and it was sitting on pins and needles during certain points during the book when we thought that her nationality might be revealed to the Nazis.
In my Goodreads review of this book, I described this book as “another beautifully told but haunting story of WWII,” and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s a wonderful story, and even though it’s very heart wrenching, I feel like everybody needs to know how these thousands of people lost their lives. I gave this book a 5/5 stars and I’m already looking forward to reading more books by Ruta Sepetys, but I think I might need a little break before I start another one!