By Thomas O'Connor //
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys is a harrowing account of a band of refugees and their escape from Nazi Germany as the Russians are invading towards the end of World War II. The story is told from four perspectives: Emilia, a pregnant Polish girl; Florian, a Prussian who is carrying a secret; Joana, a Lithuanian nurse; and Alfred, a German soldier with expansive delusions.
Their story is a fictionalized version of a real-life historical event lost to time that Ruta Sepetys, who is known for giving a voice to the voiceless in Between Shades of Gray and Fountains of Silence, tells so well. The refugees make their way across Germany, caught between the evil Nazi regime and the Russian Red Army closing in on them. However, when the refugees finally secure passage on a ship, the Wilhelm Gustloff, and leave Germany behind, their hardships are not over.
While the characters of Salt to the Sea are fictional, their stories echo the cruelty of WWII and show what barbarity refugees endured during the time. Sepetys constructs an enticing narrative that is made even more riveting through its historical setting. Salt to the Sea is superb in its ability to capture the refugee experience and demonstrate how much refugees sacrifice on their way to freedom. While the book is educational, and perfect for lovers of historical fiction, it also contains violence and the horrors of war (13+).