QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Copyright © 2016 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
62, No.4 - Winter 2016
Editor of this issue:Almantas Samalavičius
Ruta Sepetys. Salt to the Sea.
New York: Philomel, 2016. 391 pages. ISBN 9780399160301.
Sepetys tells the compelling tale of three teens during the last months
of World War II. They are fleeing their war-torn homelands, just ahead
of the advancing Soviet army. Joana is Lithuanian, Emilia is Polish,
and Florian is Prussian. The fourth, Alfred, is a young German sailor
in the port of Pil-lau. All are realistic, enticing characters. Each
has their own story, revealed over the course of the novel. The three
meet, befriend each other, and travel together through a devastated
East Prussia. Sepetys follows their compelling stories with exacting
and wrenching detail. They face hunger, homeless-ness, deception,
bombings, shootings, and looting. There's even an embedded spy story
about the disappearance of the Amber Room. Together they form a bond,
ensuring their mutual survival. All four eventually sail across the
Baltic on the ill-fated Wilhelm Gustloff. Three of them survive the
sinking of the ship, while many of their companions are sadly lost at
sea, including Alfred.
The historical fiction is based on the
real lives of a handful of teenagers and young adults. They boarded and
survived the Wilhelm Gustloff. Sepetys' characters are fictionalized
composites of these survivors. Their horrors come from historic memoirs
of East European refugees. The destruction of the Wilhelm Gustloff is,
of course, a major secret of World War II. Post-war Germany ignored
even the shining moments of its Nazi past, while the Soviets, of
course, hid their torpedoing of a refugee rescue ship. Sep-etys felt
compelled to honor it since it is the largest naval disaster in history.
novel is written for teenagers. Chapters are short, sentences are
crisp, and the action moves quickly. The novel alternates between four
first-person points of view. Each of the characters tells their
experiences from their own perspective. The same incidents sometimes
repeat in quick succession, told by two or three different characters,
giving the reader a more complete perspective of the event. Alfred's
segments are often expressed in letters to and from his mother and his
girlfriend. In spite of the target audience, the narrative is
non-linear: the reader is forced to produce meaning from the
Sepetys' previous historical novel Between
Shades of Gray (not to be confused with Fifty Shades of Gray) made it
to the New York Times best seller list. It has been translated into any
number of languages. It is scheduled to be released as a motion
picture, Ashes in the Snow, in 2016.
Salt to the Sea is a
must-read. It realistically condenses end-of war-refugee tragedies into
an action-packed adventure. Sepetys is a talented and enticing author.
Be prepared for a great story about life, filled with hope, heart
break, and friendship.