THE HARBINGER

But the Children Love the Books: Salt to the Sea

“I had agreed with mother to look to the future, but secretly I dreamed of returning to the past.”—Salt to the Sea

By Abigail Winters, Staff

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Occasionally, a book filled with fantasy or the destruction of our future world gets old. The same plot—a strong female character feels unfulfilled and seeks to right the wrongs of the world while trying to balance the rest of her teenage life—is replayed over and over again. Sometimes something real is the only sort of book comfort you can understand. Something real can often be all you need.

Authors using the destruction of our future world is not new and is often times how they choose to speak to us and teach us. However, looking to the past can give some valuable insight as well.

Salt to the Sea, by Ruta Sepetys, is an inspiration based on the very true and horrific events of World War II. It is not the classic World War II story, though. She dives into the mindset of four very different characters—a young Lithuanian nurse, a Polish girl, an East Prussian restoration artist, and a German sailor—with their take on the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff.

Not many people are aware of the events of the Wilhelm Gustloff, which was an event that killed more than the sinking of the Titanic and the Lusitania combined. Due to the fact that Germany was the victim, not much is known about it. Sepetys takes up the challenge though and discusses, through the viewpoint of her characters, what it’s like to be a refugee. Though her characters are fake, their stories are very real. Sepetys reveals the truth of war and what happens off of the battlefield; away from tanks and guns. A normal citizen trying to run away from the war and the death. A different label is given for a refugee: victim. These people fleeing their homes, families, and the comfort of familiarity risk everything to escape a nightmare and return to a world that has turned their backs on them. They run to a ship that was built to carry 1,200 but will carry 10,000 away from the destruction, but shortly after setting sail over 9,000 will drown as it sinks.

In the novel, the characters are fleeing Stalin, while also trying to evade the clutches of the Nazi’s. Their only hope is to escape onto the Wilhelm Gustloff that Germany has provided to help refugees fleeing Stalin. They all carry their secrets close to them because, for some of them, their secrets could be their death. One feels responsible for their family’s death. The other’s very existence is a crime. Another holds Hitler’s prized possession. And one hides behind fantasies and desperately searches for a way to prove that their own existence is important.

Follow Joana, Emilia, Florian, and Alfred through their struggles to find peace, home, revenge, and courage. Discover how their stories will collide and for some of them end in their demise.

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