Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Salt to the Sea

The narrative of history in America usually focuses on those parts most closely concerning us.  I guess this is natural, and my own reading is almost entirely focused around history that is somewhat connected to my own.  If you were to ask me about maritime disasters I'd probably mention the Titanic which it an iceberg (about 1,500 died) or the Lusitania which was sunk by a German submarine (about 1,200 died) and drew the U.S. into WWI.  I might also think about the USS Indianapolis which was torpedoed during WWII (about 1,200 died), and the story is sometimes featured on television during "Shark Week."  I wouldn't have mentioned or even known about the half dozen German ships sunk in the Baltic Sea by Russian submarines near the end of WWII, when approximately 25,000 died, including over 9,000 on one ship alone – half of which were children!  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys tells the story of four young people among half a million refugees that were fleeing the advancing Russians as the German armies began to collapse.  Joanna is around 21 and from Lithuania, and is a skilled nurse.  Florian is from East Prussia and is around 18, and is a gifted artist.  Emilia is only 15 and from Poland, which makes her one of the 'lesser races' according to Hitler.  And Alfred is a doughy sailor aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship waiting to carry lucky refugees away from the barbaric Russian soldiers and to freedom.  Each, however, carries secrets – secrets that weigh heavily on them.

I'm not usually a fan of historical fiction – I find real facts mixed in with fiction confusing, but when I don't know that many facts to begin with, it's a lot easier to read.  And this was a very compelling story – told from each of the 4 perspectives in short alternating chapters.  Because each section is no more than a few pages at most, I often found myself reading more and more at each sitting, trying to find out what was happening.  One of the characters made me furious, but the others – and many of the peripheral characters – drew me into their collective stories.  It's the kind of story that readers who like historical fiction like The Nightingale will really enjoy.  And even though it highlights a lot of the suffering and tragedy of this time in history, it's a good read and a good story.  It's just one of those stories from the Eastern Front of WWII that I didn't know anything about.  (I rec'd an advance copy of this book from Amazon Vine.)

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