“War is catastrophe. It breaks families in irretrievable pieces. But those who are gone are not necessarily lost.”
― Ruta Sepetys,
Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four secrets.
Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies…and war.
As thousands of desperate refugees flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom.
Yet not all promises can be kept.
Inspired by the single greatest tragedy in maritime history, bestselling and award-winning author Ruta Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray) lifts the veil on a shockingly little-known casualty of World War II. An illuminating and life-affirming tale of heart and hope.
Caitlynn: I loved this book from the instant I opened it. It was fast-paced and exciting for me the whole time. I loved each of the characters and it has definitely made me want to read Sepetys’ other novel, Between Shades of Grey. Definitely a 5/5 stars for me!
Eden: I have heard so many wonderful things about Salt to the Sea so going in I had really high expectations. Luckily it lived up to hype and those expectations. With four points of view Sepetys does an amazing job giving the characters their own distinct voice. There was no single character that felt the same. Everything about this book was fantastic 5/5 stars.
Jenn: I knew from the start of this book that was going to love it. I just didn’t anticipate that I would love this book this much. The subject matter immediately drew me in. But, it was Sepetys characters and their relationships that made this book one of my favorite books that I’ve read this year. It’s seriously amazing. I would highly recommend picking it up. I can’t wait to read more from this author. Rating: 5/5
Eden: How did you guys feel about this book?
E: This is my favorite book that I’ve read in months.I think since Caraval.
J: I love World War II books so I knew it was right up my alley.
C: I didn’t know that I loved WWII books but now I do.
J: That’s my favorite “genre” of books.
C: Let’s start off with how interesting it was to read this after reading The Bronze Horseman. Since The Bronze Horseman is set in Russia during WWII to then go to a German outlook in this book. And the Russians were looked at as total enemies in this book. There wasn’t one positive thing about Russia in this book. But, it was very interesting to see the differences between someone living in Russia and someone trying to flee Germany, Lithuania, and Poland.
E: This book killed me. There was a point where I was looking at how many pages I had left and I was like “Oh no. This is not a good sign that I have so few pages left and so much left undone.”
E: Can we talk about Alfred first?
C: I got the creeps from him so quickly.
J: He was Cal from “Titanic.”
E: No, he was crazy. His letters to Hannelore? I was like, “Who is this girl?”
J: I started being like, “I don’t want to read them. I’m going to skip all of your parts if you keep writing stupid letters.”
E: I thought the letters were interesting because it just shows his delusions.
J: No, at the beginning when you didn’t get any other perspective on him than the letters. At the end I liked them because it gave us insight. But, at the beginning it drove me crazy.
E: He was just such an insane character.
C: When Florian is like, “I’m going to push him off. If he doesn’t stop talking I’m going to push him off.”
E: There was a part when he watches a little girl get crushed by a piano-
E: and he looks at this woman who is going “What do we do? What do we do?” and he goes “I don’t know ma’am” and walks away. Then he goes up and grabs a lifejacket right next to the child’s body. Jenn was like, “Trust me. He gets worse.”
C: “The pulped fruit” I think is what she referred to it as. Like holy shit.
J: My favorite thing was I just pictured him strolling through just grabbing people’s shit off of their shoulders.
J: But, throughout when they were on the ship and Alfred is supposed to be helping I felt like the problem could be easily solved. I was hoping that Florian would bring Alfred into the chimney and kill him and then throw his body off the side of the boat. I was like, I don’t know why you guys are still worrying about him telling somebody when you could just kill him. He wouldn’t be a missed person. I had a solution.
E: Was Alfred’s reveal surprising to you guys?
C: What was his reveal?
C: Not at all because you knew he was crazy to begin with.
E: I didn’t know if he killed her and chopped her body up in little pieces or something.
J: He wasn’t brave enough to do that. He had to have somebody else do his dirty work for him.
C: Did you read Between Shades of Gray?
J: No, I have it but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet.
C: Because, it’s apparently about Joana’s family.
E: Is that before or after?
C: Before. I found out from reading the Goodreads questions. Apparently that’s her most popular book.
J: Yeah, I bought that one first and then you said Salt to the Sea so I was like, Ok.
E: Guess I’ve got to read Between Shades of Gray now.
C: Were there any characters that you didn’t like other than Alfred?
E: I thought Eva was obnoxious. But, I liked that she was obnoxious.
C: I loved everyone. I wish there was somebody that was Polish so that we could get more of an interaction with Emilia.
J: I liked that we didn’t have that interaction. I liked all of her internal monologues. I think that it made me even sadder about her life. Because, she came across younger because of that. A normal 15 year old I don’t think would come across as young as she did if they could communicate freely. She seemed much more like somebody that people needed to care for her. Where if she didn’t have that language barrier that wouldn’t have happened as much. I don’t think it would have had the same impact for everything she went through.
E: It spoke so much to her character that she didn’t have a real way to communicate with these people but she continued to stay with them and follow them.
J: Not them. The knight.
E: Yeah the knight. To be by his side and stuff all because of one instance she had put all of her trust in this guy. And when she’s talking about the people around her she has such a sweet and positive outlook on everyone. She just wanted everyone to be safe and happy and to get to where they wanted to be.
C: She was just such a sweet person.
J: She was just a little girl who offered potatoes.
C: And the life raft too. I was not surprised whatsoever.
E: Oh my gosh when she did that I was like, “Little baby Klaus.”
C: And then the afterward with how they because the family. The letter where Hanalinka was talking about how Klaus was her brother.
J: I was very happy with how it ended.
E: I was happy with the ending too. I read this book in two days? I read the majority of it yesterday too. I was glued to it.
C: The author’s note at the end that spoke about how it was a real event and that it was the largest sinking and nobody knows about it.
E: How did you guys like Florian?
J: I liked him more than I liked Joana and I really liked Joana.
C: Really? I really liked her. One thing I didn’t care for in this book was the fact that they told us everybody had secrets and they would slowly reveal them. Don’t tell us that they have secrets. We know everyone already has secrets you don’t have to say it. Everyone has demons you don’t have to spell it out for us.
J: What I liked about him in this book was that he wanted to seem cold and calculated but he constantly was showing that he couldn’t be that way. His interactions with Emilia made those two my favorite characters in the book. He cared for her so much. She was who he thought of first after everything went down. That’s who he was concerned about when thinking about the ship.
E: When she gave birth to the baby and he went in there to her.
All three of us fake sobbing
E: I was just like oh my gosh. Then when Joana asks him about it he just kind of shrugs and-
C: “I just like kids.” I’m glad we all had the same reaction to that. I wanted to die.
E: It was so good. That book I was glued from the beginning.
C: Yeah, and I was concerned about the fact that it was such short chapters and different people. But, I loved the style.
J: I will say that this is a book where the audiobook did not do it justice. We started reading it with the audiobook and I was not into it. But, as soon as I started reading the actual book I was obsessed.
E: This is a book that you have to have in your hands. You have to sit down and read it because it’s so much stronger. Also, you don’t really know if Alfred’s reading a letter when he first comes on. I don’t know. This is a book that you have to read rather than listen to.
E: To go back to the point of views. I tend to struggle when a book has more than two or three points of view because it gets hard to keep up with things.
C: It’s like, “Wait whose chapter was I reading.”
E: I feel like a lot of authors struggle to create a distinct voice for each character. With these characters I did not struggle with their voice or keeping up with what was going on. Even when they were in separate places I still knew where they were and what was happening and she didn’t even give us that much information.
J: I think that it helped that she kept their narratives really short. She wasn’t retelling stories from each perspective. She wasn’t going on long drawn out explanations. She was keeping it to 5-6 pages at the most. I think that helped with knowing whose perspective you were reading and keeping that distinct voice. You didn’t lose track. You didn’t lose focus. It was short enough that you didn’t get bored of their perspective.
E: I think that’s why I enjoyed it so much. You had that post the other day about our reading styles. (You can find it here for reference) I’m a multitasking reader and I’m like that because I get bored with the same voice over and over again and I need to pick up something else. This one was so good for me because I didn’t have that itch to pick up anything else.