The Wilhelm Gustloff was pregnant with lost souls conceived of war. They would crowd into her belly and she would give birth to their freedom. But did anyone realize? The ship was christened for a man, Wilhelm Gustloff... He had been the leader of the Nazi Party in Switzerland.
He was murdered. The ship was born of death.
It's January 1945 and Germany is facing a swift Soviet advance. Desperate refugees flock to the coast to board ships that will lead them to safety. This is the story of four refugees whose circumstances bring them together as they seek shelter and freedom aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff.
In Salt to the Sea, Ruta Sepetys does just as she did in Between Shades of Gray -- brought to light a moment in history that no one ever knew about. In this case, it's the biggest disaster in maritime history. Told in short chapters via four characters' alternating points-of-view, this book will leave you staying up late into the night to finish as you say to yourself, "Just one more chapter." And, as an added bonus, Sepetys managed to connect this story to Between Shades of Gray so that is an exciting moment in the story when the reader comes upon that realization.
I have had the pleasure of hearing Ruta Sepetys talk many times and hearing her talk about her research process is always nothing short of inspiring. It was no different for Salt to the Sea. This week she visited Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor and to a full house, she had the audience rapt listening to her tell the stories of survivors, family members, and of divers who have gone down and experienced the Gustloff first hand. But even more inspiring than her research process was what she said about why she writes about forgotten history. It's actually in the author's note in the back of the book:
History divided us, but through reading we can be united in story, study, and remembrance.
I hope Sepetys keeps researching, studying, and uniting us all through story for years to come.
Hear Sepetys talk about Salt to the Sea:
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
Published: February 2, 2016
Genre: Historical Fiction
Audience: Young Adult
Disclosure: Advance reader copy acquired at the NCTE convention in November
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