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William, Sir John's Shadowers

Salt to the Sea

Ruta Sepetys' Salt to the Sea is a very hard book to talk about. Which is strange, as it's a long book with a lot going on. Similarly to The Smell of Other People's Houses, Salt to the Sea is told from the perspectives of four characters, and whose perspective you're in changes for every chapter. And that's where the comparisons to anything ends. Salt to the Sea follows the lives of four young people, each a different country, at the end of World War 2, all boarding a ship called the Wilhelm Gustloff as part of a mass evacuation project organised by Germany.

The story of the Wilhelm Gustloff is interesting enough on it's own. I won't tell you exactly what happens, but I will tell you this - most people won't get a happy ending. It's an incredibly shocking and criminally overlooked tragedy that deserves more attention, as is given in this book.

Unlike The Smell of Other People's Houses, Salt to the Sea feels more like one big story that's told from the perspectives of multiple people. Except for Alfred, who's more separate, so I'l talk more about him later. There'S Joana, a Lithuanian nurse, Florian, a Prussian former museum preserver (I don't know what else to call it) and Emilia, a Polish girl. Each has their own past, fears and reasons for boarding the ship in search of safety. My favourite, and easily the most interesting, is Florian. His reasons for boarding are drastically different to everyone else's, and his secluded personality and shady backstory makes him easily the most intriguing character to read about.

The other two are also good. When they board the Gustloff, Joana is separated from their group and is forced to work on the ship as a nurse. I like her emotions and feelings towards her Lithuanian people, but her backstory is easily the least fleshed out. Emilia is a Pole, who were prosecuted by the Nazis. Because of this, she spends most of the book undercover. I really like her past, however. She often tells herself lies to stop her from losing her mind, meaning that you don't entirely know what elements of her past are true and which are made up, which makes her an incredibly intriguing character. Also, before I move on to Alfred, I want to quickly mention that the chapters in this book are extremely short, only being around two-three pages long. I usually don't like this, but it works great here, as constant perspective shifts both keep the reader on his toes and allow multiple insights on the current scenario.

Alfred is completely different to the other three characters. He's a German soldier working on the Gustloff, and doesn't meet the others until around halfway into the book. He's unique because a good chunk of his part of the story is told via 'mental letters' to his girlfriend at home, Hannalore. Part of me actually wishes all of his chapters were written like this, as it's a very different style of storytelling that I like. As it is, He's still an enjoyable character to read, mostly because of all the World War 2 books I've read, I've never read one from the perspective of someone who agrees with all of Hitler's policies.

Salt to the Sea is an incredible book, easily one of the best nominees for the Carnegie award. It combines interesting characters, a creative style of writing and an insight on a horrifically overlooked tragedy. I'd say this is the second best Carnegie book I've read so far (behind Railhead). And one of the very best things about it is the strange sense of optimism it emits, even in the bleakest of times.

Posted on: 12th June 2017 at 01:26 pm

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