Book Review: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

I haven’t done a book review in awhile, but Salt to the Sea deserves one. What follows will be spoiler-free, so fear not, friends, and read on.

salt to the sea

I’ve talked several times on here about why reading is a great pastime, and why you should read more books. But if you only read one book this summer, it should be this one. And should you survive the journey, there are always other books to continue on with.

Why Salt to the Sea?

This is a story about German civilians as the end of World War II draws near and the Soviet army is closing in. It’s gritty. It’s harsh. It’s simultaneously ugly and beautiful. All in all, it’s a story that will change you.

There are three primary reasons I’d recommend Salt to the Sea:

  • The characters. This story features characters more human than most stories could ever hope to achieve. They’re not perfect. In fact, some of them are repulsive. But they are real—so real, you can’t help but care for them. Salt to the Sea portrays the human experience in war better than any work of fiction I’ve ever read.
  • The voice. I’m a huge fan of strong narrative voices, and this story has one. Ruta Sepetys is an incredibly talented author, and the voice of this story pulled me in so deep, I ended up finishing the book within three days.
  • The themes. Salt to the Sea deals with some incredibly gritty themes; loyalty, morality, hope, and sacrifice. If this book doesn’t kill you a little bit, you’re probably heartless.

The Story

Set in Germany in 1945, Salt to the Sea details the story of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a German ocean liner set up to evacuate refugees near the end of the war. It follows four characters: Joana, a Lithuanian nurse hiding from her past; Emilia, Polish girl fleeing Russian abuse; Alfred, an over-zealous young Nazi desperate for recognition and heroism; and Florian, a Prussian on the run from Hitler himself, as they flee toward the Baltic Sea—and destruction.

It’s a heartbreaking story of love and loss, hope and despair, and due to heavy content, I can’t recommend it for readers younger than 15.  It will shatter you into a million pieces, and then perhaps put some of the pieces back together in a semi-functioning order.

Hope and Pain: A Journey in the Perilous Realm

Stories like this have a way of drawing you out of yourself and your world. They force you to dig deep—to ask yourself: how would I respond? In the face of chaos and vivid mortality, what would I do?

Is it possible to glimpse hope in the midst of such unimaginable pain? Does sacrifice even matter when the black deep of despair is so encompassing? What is worth surviving for? Questions like these are what force us out of our comfortable, cushioned world and into the Perilous Realm.

Salt to the Sea inspires the search for hope, no matter the suffering, because: “Just when you think this war has taken everything you loved, you meet someone and realize that somehow you still have more to give.”

The strength and grit and pure will of humans to survive in the face of immeasurable odds makes this story a must-read.

Let’s chat!

  • Have you read this book? What did you think?
  • What are some stories that yanked you out of your comfortable world and forced you to face tough questions?
  • How did you respond?

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

    • It was SO GOOD. I haven’t read a book that impressed me as much as this did in a long, long time. It’s hard for me to move on, frankly.