‘Salt to the Sea’ by Ruta Sepetys is the first of her Historical YA novels I have read. I will now be reading all of them.
‘Salt to the Sea’ (fantastic title!) is set in 1945 and is based on a true event that happened as WW 2 neared its end. It is a little known event and yet the worst disaster in maritime history. When you learn how many died in a massive evacuation from what was then called Gutenhafen in Poland, it seems incredible that we don’t know more about the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff.
The novel starts en-route to the port. It is a long, dangerous walk through snow and biting cold. Many die along the way. Following a small group, we get to know how it must have been for many who were fleeing their homes. Chapters are written in the different characters’ view points and their stories are revealed little by little. In this way, we learn the broader stories and we grow to care. Each character is carefully chosen to paint the different nationalities and what they represent in Nazi Germany. Emilia, from Poland, the nurse, Joana from Lithuania, blind Ingrid. An orphan boy and an old shoemaker. And Florian who is carrying a great art secret. They are all have one thing in common. They are all fleeing from the advancing Russian soldiers.
At the port, Alfred is the voice of the German soldier. He writes imaginary letters to a sweetheart at home, though the life and who he portrays himself to be in the letters is very different from the reality. Ruta Sepetys’ stark prose gives his situation humour, which is spattered throughout the book.
What struck me at the end, after the unsentimentally written story reached its conclusion, was the importance of historical fiction. I know the answer, without doubt, why it is so important, after growing to care about the wandering boy and the shoe poet and Emilia in her pink hat.
Historical Fiction can tell us about events in history that otherwise we may never hear about because they have been hushed up or forgotten. We learn the stories of the little people affected by big events, we see lives that history doesn’t record.
Historical novels can bring the truth of what really happened, to light.
After reading ‘Salt to the Sea’, I not only feel inspired to read all Ruta Sepetys’ books, but I also feel inspired to write more historical fiction after ‘Jiddy Vardy.’ I want to ensure people and hidden events are not forgotten.
Hooray for Historical Fiction!!!