Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four secrets.
Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies…and war.
As thousands of desperate refugees flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom.
Yet not all promises can be kept.
This book is told in four points of view. Each chapter is short, so things go by quickly, but they don’t ever feel rushed or choppy.
Joana is a Lithuanian with a medical background, Florian is a Prussian art restorer’s apprentice, Emilia is Polish and on the run from a farm she was sent to, and Alfred is a crazy Nazi sailor. Each character has a secret that builds up a lot of suspense throughout the story and keeps you on your toes.
Emila and Florian’s paths cross one night when he saves her from a Russian soldier. She follows him to a barn where they meet Joana and her little crew of refugees that consists of a shoe maker, a six-year-old boy, a blind girl, and a blunt older woman. The group travels to the coast to escape the soviets and board a ship called Wilhelm Gustloff.
Wilhelm Gustloff was a real ship that was built to carry 1,463 people. On the day it was hit by Russian torpedoes and sunk, it was carrying 10,574. It had more fatalities than the Titanic and the Lusitania combined. Over 9,000 people, around 5,000 of which were children, perished in the Baltic Sea during the winter. I did not know about this event until I read the book. The sinking scene was so detailed and horrifying.
Salt to the Sea is so emotional and well-written. Every character has their own personality that really shined through in those short chapters. My one complaint is that the romance, though slow burn, kind of felt forced? Overall it was a beautiful, heartbreaking story that I highly recommend.