Salt to the Sea – A #Review

Book Title: Salt to the Sea
Author: Ruta Sepetys

The more I read about the Second World War, the more I realise how little I know. So here’s another WWII story, another perspective, another group of people displaced from their homes and homeland in search of peace.

The Story

The War is almost at an end. Germany is on the back foot, though refusing to acknowledge it even as the Russian Army advances, raping and killing along its way. Through this terrifying chaos, four refugees – two Germans, a Pole and a Lithuanian – with dark tortured pasts, try to escape the war, making their way to the coast of the Baltic Sea in an attempt to board a ship to safety.

Even after they board the Wilhelm Gustloff their struggles don’t end. For one, they still have secrets to hide. Also the German ship is a target for Russian torpedoes even if all it carries are wounded soldiers, women and children.

Four protagonists, Four POVs, Many stories

The story is told through four points of view, with each of the characters getting two or three pages at a time. It took me a few pages to get used to it but then narrative caught pace and didn’t flag till the very end.

The success of a book like this one depends on how much and how soon the reader gets invested in the characters and their lives. I found myself gripped by not just the four main ones but by many others too. I wanted to know their stories, their families, their background and the past they were hiding. The secrets were revealed slowly over the pages leaving me horrified and amazed by turns. I wanted them desperately to find the safety they craved, I mourned them as much as their friends in the novel.

The journey

A large part of the book talks about journey of the four protagonists to the ship. It is a passage plagued with fear. The biggest threat is from the Russians who are technically the liberators, but are just as vicious as the Nazis, claiming all they find as victors’ spoils. There are the Nazis themselves who wouldn’t hesitate to persecute a Polish girl or a deserter as also the old and disabled. Above all there’s hunger and cold. Septeys descriptions brought home how cruel, how persistent and how insidious the two can be, cutting through layers of meagre clothing, freezing and starving victims to death.

On the ship

Images of surging desperate crowds anxious to board the ship with their belongings, often reduced to a single bag, were heart wrenching. There were moms throwing their children onto the ship hoping they’d get to safety or ‘buying’ children hoping they’d be their passport for the voyage – those are scenes that’ll remain with me for a long time. Desperation makes one act in ways one never thinks of. It brings out the best in people and also the worst.

I must mention that though Salt to the Sea talks about struggle and fear and loss, it isn’t a sad book. It has moments of warmth and genuine goodness that make it worth a read.

Last Thought: This one has to be read.

To buy the book at Amazon click on the picture below.

24 Replies to “Salt to the Sea – A #Review”

  1. The stories from WWII are often heart wrenching. One cannot imagine the horror that one human can cause upon another. I have read only few novels based on war as it’s really hard to forget them. This one sounds like an excellent and an intense read. Loved your review.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. WWII books are shocking and then it keeps me horrified. I read Exodus by Leon Uris which is also similar with many layers of characters, emotions and their life journeys. Ken Follett is another author who has written many books on the WWII. i will look up this one. Adding to my TBR.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve read Exodus – the only Leon Uris book I’ve read and it had such an impact upon me that for years I couldn’t see the Palestinian POV at all. Now of course I realise the issue is much more complex with both sides having valid causes.
      This one isn’t as layered as Exodus – it’s a much shorter, simpler book but worth a read still.


  3. I read this book in 2018 and absolutely loved it. You are right that the more we read about WW11, the lesser it feels. This would be a recommend from me too. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I did not realize this was based on WW2, but this does seem like a compelling read. On to the list it goes! Thank you for the review!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Dear Tulika,

    I love the title of this book, but I’m not sure, I’ll ever get to reading it. Not a big fan of war stories or historical sagas per say, but who knows. I have pretty much a few historical sagas in the early years.

    Thank you for this detailed review.

    Your blog is one cosy nook, I tell you. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I break down each time I read stories about the WW2. Be it in novels, or articles, it leaves me feeling with a sadness and also anger towards how disgusting and power-hungry we humans can get.
    I am sure adding this one to my TBR and hoping I find it soon.
    Thanks for this review, Tulika! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right. It’s horrifying to see how low people can sink and what desperate lengths people can go to for power. Sadly enough we don’t learn from history and keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I love the title of the book, however, I am currently reading a WW1 book and is already giving me sleepless nights, It will be a long time before I take up another war book. It just wrenches my heart out to read about human atrocities.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This book broke me, I admit. Just like ‘The Book Thief’.

    The journeys, the pain, the love, the fear and everything else in between just consumes you. You said it right, WWII is such a vast topic that the more you read the lesser it seems.

    This book teaches us a lot about human relationships and behavior in the wake of a tragedy. Definitely a must read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly. I got caught up in their journey – the terror and the cold. When the reached the ship it was like a personal friend or relative had found safety.


  9. Somehow I am fascinated into reading WWII based books – its a morbid fascination with the Nazi brutality and the bravery of spirit of the survivors – I am not sure its healthy!!

    Loved your review – it brought out the emotion you felt while reading the book and has tempted me enough to mark it on my TBR

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right it is a morbid fascination. I read and re-read because it is so difficult to imagine that something like this could happen in the world and in such recent history.


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