Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

genre: young adult historical fiction

As the Russians advance near the close of World War Two, those left in Germany have little choice but to flee west if they wish to avoid tremendous fighting and the ravages of the Soviet troops.   Salt to the Sea follows four teens in very different circumstances who have ended up separated from their families. While being alone has its advantages, there is also safety in traveling among a group of other refugees and soon three of these four find themselves with the same goal: passage aboard a ship that will get them across the Baltic as quickly as possible.

Why have I never heard of the Wilhelm Gustloff? From the beginning of the book, I felt a sense of dread, it's clear that something not good is going to happen and the tension builds nicely. I really liked the multiple-narrator narrative, it nicely rounds out the characters to see them from different points of view and one particular secondary character added a lot of depth and humanity to the story. I appreciated the different bits of specific historical references to Nazi art crimes, there is a nice romantic thread and the ending, while tragic and upsetting, did resolve in a way that left me hopeful. 

I appreciated how you truly get a sense of the fact that in a war, NO ONE is left unaffected, no matter what side you are on.  It made me think of the Syrian refugee crisis and the desperation of humanity in the face of wartime terror.  This is an excellent piece of historical fiction that I would hand to an older teen to offer up a view, specifically, of the way the war affected civilians of non-Jewish ancestry in Eastern Europe as well as a compelling account of a modern maritime disaster.

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