Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys, review by Melissa Fox
One of the things I really admire about Sepetys is her willingness to tell the untold story. In "Between Shades of Grey" it was the story of Lithuanians who were sent to work camps under Stalin. In "Out of the Easy," she tackled the story of a young woman, the daughter of a New Orleans prostitute, who was trying to change her situation in life. Sepetys finds the story that's difficult to face or bear and looks at them unflinchingly, compelling readers to bear this hard history with her. It usually makes for emotionally difficult reading, but under Sepetys' masterful hand, we find we can't look away.
In her latest book, she tackles the sinking of the Willhelm Gustloff, a Nazi ship that was carrying 10,000+ refugees that was sunk by the Soviets in January of 1945. But rather than telling the sweeping story of a tragedy, Sepetys takes a narrower approach. We follow three refugees -- Emelia, a pregnant Polish girl; Florian, a Prussian who's on the run with a stolen secret; and Joana, a Lithuanian nurse who's been able to repatriate into Germany -- as they make their way through the frozen countryside, walking to try and save their lives, scared that they might meet both Germans and Russians on the road. The fourth voice is that of Alfred, a young Nazi recruit who is on the ship, preparing it for departure. The chapters are short, almost poetic, and they intertwine in unexpected and compelling ways. The stories of the characters propel you forward, in spite of the horrors. Their stories make the horrors of war and the sinking of the Willhelm Gustloff hit home that much harder.
It's exactly what I've come to expect from her. And that's the best thing.