Book Review: Salt to the Sea

Ruta Sepetys once again successfully shed light on tragedies during World War II that are not talked about when discussing World War II. Usually, when it comes to discussing the WWII, it is usually about Hitler’s regime against the power of Stalin but in Salt to the Sea, the reader is immersed in a story that is devastatingly beautiful and will leave you with a broken heart and an enlightened mind.

Following four main characters with different backgrounds, they have one thing in common: The desire to survive. There is a Lithuanian girl acting as the driving force of the group, there is also a German deserter who does not follow Hitler’s principles, a young Polish girl terrified and yet brave, and lastly, a German who idolizes Hitler and believes in the German master race. These characters have different homelands, backgrounds, and secrets, but in the end, they will find their lives intertwined, for better or worse.

Salt to the Sea is devastatingly beautiful. Every single word is painful yet poetic. Sepetys’ writing is direct to the point unlike other writers out there that are really descriptive in which they write long passages but then you get lost in their words. The writing in this one, on the other hand, are just short and breezy but instead of losing in between passages, you lose yourself in the images. The images were really clear in this book. The writing style is so simple but the images and atmospheric feel are still there. It had vivid descriptions that will make you tear up and to the point of feeling like your throat is closing due to the horrendous situations brought to life by Sepetys’ writing.

It is dark and painful but the way it was written, it will give you a satisfying ending after a lot of pain and suffering that the book has caused you.

An interesting aspect of this book is the multiple point of views. Honestly, I had a hard time following the characters and their backstories during the first 1/3 of the book. I literally had to write their names and their backgrounds on a piece of paper and I would glance at it every time they change perspectives. Truthfully, having four different perspectives was hard to follow but the longer and deeper you get into the book, it becomes easier. Although it was easy to follow the characters by the end of the book, it is undeniable that having four point of views was a difficult thing to do. It is great that Sepetys managed to make things easy for the readers despite the difficulty of the situation.

Another thing that must be said about this book is that it has the perfect balance of plot and characters. Other books out there might focus on the story and leave the characters behind, others will probably just focus on the characters and their growth while ignoring the plot altogether. Salt to the Sea is a mixture of enlightening plot and round characters. The plot developed and so did the characters. The characters were multi-layered, interesting, and they were fleshed out. Each character had their inner conflicts and it was great seeing them overcome it. By overcoming these conflicts and by making choices during a difficult time, they had their character developments and they truly felt like real human beings compared to just a bunch of words tied together to create a character.

Interestingly, the book has four perspectives and yet each and everyone of these main characters were alive and multi-layered. It is clear to the readers the motivations, the strengths and weaknesses of these characters. One of my favorite parts in this book was when their ship started sinking and we can see the thoughts and priorities of each characters in just one single line.

The baby. The wandering boy. What was I to do?

The polish girl. My pack. Where are they?

The knight. He had the baby. I knew he’d be a savior.

Bodies were strewn like human confetti. Would I still get my medal?

This part was a masterful work by Sepetys. Looking at those lines makes it possible for the readers to truly understand the characterizations of the main characters. Their motivations and priorities are crystal clear. With a single line, Sepetys made the readers understand who they are dealing with and that, right there, is great writing.

This book shows the brutality of the second World War through the eyes of four characters that have embedded themselves in your mind and heart that it is difficult to let go. Dark, yet full of heart, Sepetys shows the desperation, the pain, the suffering during these dark days through sentences webbed together to create a masterful work called Salt to the Sea.


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