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Thomas, South Molton Community College - Carnegie

Salt to the Sea

This emotion-loaded tragedy is filled to the brim with suspense and mystery. I found the book very compelling and involving.
The characters were very believable, and I liked Sepetys’ depiction of their different backgrounds and motives. Florian was the most prominent of the characters, and although the others had narratives from their point of view, I felt that, as the reader, I spent more time with him and knew him best. Joana was a character who brought many layers of complicated emotion to the book; her guilt in relation to her friend and her love for Florian. The horror of the war was realized by Emelia’s character. As we learn more about her past, the cold truth strikes us about how brutal this time in history was. When, later in the book, she gives birth and we learn that the child’s father is not who we originally thought, Emelia’s caring nature is confirmed. She is such a wonderful person to love a child she did not ask for. The relationship between the Poet and the Wandering Boy (the old and the very young) is one of such care and protection that it would move even the most stone hearted. It brought into sharp relief their innocence against the muddied motives of many others. Alfred was an odd character, and although unnerving to read, I was unsure what he represented. He is a Nazi, and the majority of his views are aligned with Hitler’s. However, he is disliked by the other crew members. His imaginary letters to Hannelore are unsettling, and then repulsive once her fate is revealed. This made him an ambivalent character in the respect that I was unsure what Sepetys intended the reader to feel about him.
The plot of the book was very interesting, being based on true events. I had not come across the Wilhelm Gustloff before reading this book and was shocked at how such a tragedy could be so hidden in history. I liked how the plot is presented, with four narratives intertwined into one event.
John Boyne’s The Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas is set at a similar time, dealing with similar motives and people. The characters in both books also have little effect on the bigger picture, however there is one major difference. With a little knowledge of history, the reader knows from the beginning what the ending will be, and what fate awaits Shmuel; but the disaster of the Wilhelm Gustloff is a much lesser known event, leaving a lot more room for suspense to ensnare the reader.
My one criticism of the book was Sepetys over use of cliff-hanger-chapters. I usually like these as they make the novel more compelling and add to the suspense, nevertheless I often felt that the subsequent answers given were far less dramatic than they promised to be. Joana admits to Florian that she is a murderer. However, she feels guilty for the death of her friend, which I feel, whilst both being heart-breaking, to not equate.
I wound recommend this book to someone looking for an historical fiction.

Posted on: 2nd May 2017 at 10:53 pm

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