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Jessica, French International School Hong Kong

Salt to the Sea

After reading Maddy’s review on this book, I became quite interested in it and the reasons why it had received mixed comments from my classmates, so I tried to get my hands on it as quickly as possible, and came to build my own opinion.

Salt to the Sea is a great book -- when it comes down to describing and putting into words the stillness and lifelessness of war. The writing style is quite unique, with fast pace and a comfortable lack of excess, unnecessary description of setting, which might be a good approach, as it could show the listless, empty way war victims see their surroundings. In addition, each chapter is short, so we frequently get a rotation in point of view from Florian, Joana, Alfred, and Emilia, four young people from backgrounds that differ from each other like the poles of our planet.

I enjoyed the plot very much, and was quite hooked on the book at first. However, I soon came to think that the pace is too rushed in some parts (for example, some of the deaths, Joana’s backstory, and the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff) and too slow in others (interactions between Alfred and Joana). Alfred was, in my opinion, mainly an unnecessary nuisance. Although the idea of having a ‘loyal’ Nazi soldier’s perspective was interesting, he seemed too unnatural to be believable, especially near the end of the story; but his mental letters, and the revelation of Hannelore, was very original and fresh. Florian and Joana’s relationship also seemed a bit forced to me. I think it could definitely be realistic, but they were a bit underdeveloped throughout the story, and their closeness grew roughly, step by step, and the process was a bit too obvious.

Despite all this, I found Salt to the Sea an original read, with a good insight into the suffering of German refugees. The sinking and tragedy of the Wilhelm Gustloff was brought out in Sepetys’ writing, and the coldness of some, like Eva, was sharp and realistic. Even though the characters were at times awkwardly written or rushed, they gave us a different perspective on the same event, which allowed us to form our own opinion. I would recommend this book for lovers of historical or wartime fiction, or for young readers above the age of eleven, as the story does include a few mature themes.

Posted on: 3rd May 2017 at 08:40 am

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