Synopsis: Telling the little known story of the disaster of the Wilhelm Gustloff during WWII, Salt to the Sea takes us into the minds of four young adults: two female refugees, one Nazi deserter, and one Nazi sailor. They all board a refugee ship, the Wilhelm Gustloff, to escape the Russians. (Genre: Young Adult / Historical Fiction)
Review: Salt to the Sea takes us back to World War II and the little known maritime disaster of the refugee ship, the Wilhelm Gustloff. This is an astounding book. Astounding because this disaster is not talked about. Before this book came out, I had never heard of the Wilhelm Gustloff, or any of the other ships that were destroyed at this time. And that is a shame.
The book is told from four viewpoints. There is Joana, a Lithuanian refugee who is skilled in nursing, Emilia, a Polish refugee with a horrific past, and joining them is Florian, a restoration artist who is running from the Nazi’s. Eventually they meet up with Alfred, a Nazi sailor working on the fated Wilhelm Gustloff.
I didn’t have a favorite viewpoint, and the characters actually didn’t really start clicking for me until about page 200. I will say that Alfred’s viewpoint, although he was definitely not my favorite character, was the most interesting. Basically because I kept reading with my mouth open in dismay at what he was telling his girlfriend, Hannelore. But, although interesting, I am not sure his viewpoint was necessary. Perhaps to give the technical details of the ship, but I think I would’ve liked to spend more time with the other characters, and they were far more worthy of my time. Character-wise I liked Heinz, the shoe poet, an older gentlemen travelling with them. I would’ve liked to read his viewpoint, as it would be somewhat different because he was older, but still powerful and fitting in with the book.
This book is very sad, very intense, with horrific scenes that are now forever in my mind, so those that are extremely sensitive to reading about human suffering might want to skip this. Or just be very prepared to ache with sadness while reading and afterwards. But the facts of the Wilhelm Gustloff need to be told everywhere. This is a disaster that should be discussed and should be widely known. Now thanks to this book more people will hear, learn, and pass it on.
Bottom Line: A must-read about a little known disaster during World War II.
You might also like:
- All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr: Set in France, this WWII story involves a blind French girl and a member of the Hitler Youth who is an expert on radios. The two books are very similar, and they both involve hiding artifacts from the Nazi’s. You can read my review of All the Light We Cannot See here.
- Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys: Another WWII story, this one tells of Lina, a Lithuanian girl who is sent to a Siberian labor camp. A haunting story that illuminates another lesser-known part of WWII.
- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: Set in WWII Germany, and narrated by Death, this is a fascinating tale of survival.