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Mr Conan, Impington Village College

Salt to the Sea

To begin with, I thought I might become rather irritated by the device whereby Joana, Florian, Emilia and Alfred were introduced to us as being hunted by, in turn, guilt, fate, shame or fear. That feeling grew as each character ended other chapters with confessions or (often exaggerated) predictions: "And I'll be dead soon." "I'm a murderer." "I was already dead". It felt, in those early pages, as though the author was trying too hard to hold our attention. Given the setting and the subject matter which we knew from the blurb we would be encountering, I think the author could have been more subtle and not stooped to the use of rather feeble cliff-hangers. However, as we grew to care about each character (except, obviously, Alfred) and to be horrified at the graphic descriptions of their suffering, it proved impossible to remain critical. I particularly liked getting to know the 'shoe poet' and was surprised at how long the author was able to sustain his ability to make fairly profound observations based 'solely' on his knowledge of shoes and feet! I loved his contempt for a woman who wished to 'buy' a child purely to increase her chances of being selected for registration. When she said "Everyone has a price" he retorted "But clearly not everyone has a soul". That old man proved essential to the story in many subtle ways but I enjoyed his presence in the book mostly for his warmth, strength and wisdom - qualities in marked contrast to those possessed by the most detestable character (apart from the worst German or Russian soldiers), Alfred. At the end of the book, the fast shifting of perspective proved very effective in conveying the shock to the main characters of what was happening to them and to the ship. We were not spared the details and I think the unflinching description of the thousands of drowned or crushed children are some of the most upsetting in any book written for this age group. The author was very clever to use this story to weave together actual events, invented characters and speculation about what might have happened to the 27 crates in which the Nazis had stashed the contents of 'the amber room'. I am glad to have read this book but I feel that other authors this year have packed a stronger emotional punch despite working with less dramatic subject matter.

Posted on: 12th June 2017 at 06:06 pm

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