What We’re Reading Wednesday: Salt To The Sea

Salt To The Sea – Ruta Sepetys

A bit of a sneaky one this week because I’m not actually currently reading this, however, it’s one that is very much fresh in my mind and one that I’ve been recommending to all and sundry at the issue desk – so much so that I’ve just bought two extra copies today to keep up with demand!

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From the publisher:

It’s early 1945 and a group of people trek across Germany, bound together by their desperation to reach the ship that can take them away from the war-ravaged land. Four young people, each haunted by their own dark secret, narrate their unforgettable stories.

This inspirational novel is based on a true story from the Second World War. When the German ship the Wilhelm Gustloff was sunk in port in early 1945 it had over 9000 civilian refugees, including children, on board. Nearly all were drowned. Ruta Sepetys, acclaimed author of Between Shades of Grey, brilliantly imagines their story.

It’s emotional, thought provoking and pacey. The brilliant Zoe Toft @playbythebook summed it up over on twitter as “an eye opener and a heart opener” and I couldn’t agree more.  I read it in one breathy gulp of a sitting – totally swept away but genuinely aghast that I knew so little about the historical events depicted in it.

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The success of this ‘hidden history’ doesn’t simply rest with an already poignant historical fact or the accuracy with which it is related – it is through the powerful voices of her characters and the ‘human story’ that they tell that the novel really sings.

The narrative is shared between the four main characters, masterfully switching between voices as their stories intertwine.The chapters are rapid fire, ramping up the tension but also offering an exploration of the chilling realities of war from multiple perspectives. There’s an added resonance to one voice in particular – readers of Sepetys’ earlier novel will recognise that Joana is in fact the cousin of Lina, the protagonist in ‘Between Shades of Gray’. It’s a nice touch that speaks eloquently to the guilt and grief experienced by families torn apart by conflict.

If you finish the book and want to find out more about the Wilhelm Gustloff and the events of WW2 in Eastern Europe, I’d highly recommend @Playbythebook ‘s Pinterest board which provides links to explore the history, themes and stories within the book.

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