I was very excited to pick up Ruta Sepetys latest book, Salt to the Sea, as my next new read. I’m ashamed to say this is the first of hers I’ve read, and am now counting down the minutes before her other book, Between Shades of Grey, arrives in my mailbox.
After being slightly hungover from reading Passenger, I should’ve known this historical fiction was going to leave me dry in a different way. The four characters who I got to know and experience the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff with left me questioning myself as an adult and how I would have acted when I was younger. Emilia, most of all, left my heart aching.
Admittedly, it took me quite a while to really get into the book. Bouncing from one point-of-view to another left me, well, confused. The book started off with each character having a short introduction, to the point that I had to flip back and forth a few times before I got the characters straight. This seems common enough, but it kept me from getting deep into each character for the first fifty pages or so.
The writing style, however, and the over-all story and development of characters was just beautiful. Rita Sepetys seems like a kindred spirit to me, not hesitating to share with her audience the gruesome images of a worse-than-Titanic moment in history. Sepetys does not hold back, and it is because of that I was pulled deeper into the moment and blurry to the world around me as I followed Emilia, Joanna, Florian, and even Alfred, into the sea.
I don’t want to give any spoilers, but as this book is about an incredibly journey through East Prussia, ending with the sinking of a German vessel near the end of WWII… you shouldn’t be surprised that you’ll end the book with tears in your eyes and heart.
My favorite part of this book was actually found in Sepetys’s note at the end. She said:
“If historical novels stir your interest, pursue the facts, history, memoirs, and personal testimonies available. These are the shoulders that historical fiction sits upon. When the survivors are gone, we must not let the truth disappear with them.
Please, give them a voice.”
This is put into words exactly how I fell. Why I love reading historical fiction so much, and ultimately why I love writing it.
But that’s sharing for another time.
If you don’t mind taking a few pages to get your characters straight, and you’re intrigued by more than your typical WWII book– this one is for you.
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