Salt to the Sea
by Ruta Sepetys
read from 11 to 17 November 2017
Goodreads rating: ★★★★★
(for review with spoilers: see Goodreads)
When asked which books changed my life, I can’t come up with an answer. Sure, I absolutely love Harry Potter, the Raven Cycle and A Song of Ice and Fire. But did those change my life? I’m not sure.
Finally, I can answer that question. As a future history teacher, Salt to the Sea has changed me. This tragedy should not be forgotten, yet so many people don’t know about it. Neither did I, until now.
My favourite part was probably the author’s note. Because it showed how powerful and important this book truly is. Sure, you can teach about it or read Wikipedia, but this novel does it a lot more justice.
At first, I was a bit annoyed that the cover and blurb (and even history) spoiled what was going to happen. But that didn’t influence my reading experience at all. Even if you know the events behind this book, it’s worth reading!
Salt to the Sea is told from four different perspectives. Anyone who knows me, knows that I love books with multiple POVs. Furthermore, the chapters are very short. Some readers didn’t like that, because it prevented them from connecting with the characters. However, that was not an issue for me.
Emilia instantly became my favourite, from her very first chapter. I love her so much.
I also loved Joana. She is such a good human being. It’s crazy she’s my age; war really does something to a person (not that I was doubting that).
I don’t have any strong feelings when it comes to Florian. But, just like Joana, he has a good heart.
That cannot be said of Alfred. I absolutely hated him. Which was the point (he supports Hitler, after all), but I could’ve done without his chapters. At first, I was afraid he would get a redemption arc and we would have to feel sorry for him. If anything, he only got worse as the story went on.
These days, a lot of characters in novels, films… are ‘misunderstood’. It would’ve been typical if Alfred didn’t sympathise with Hitler, but was forced to join the army. I’m very thankful that wasn’t the case in Salt to the Sea. I’m not saying that every German was awful during WWII. Not at all. But we mustn’t forget that a lot were.
Alfred is delusional. Since he doesn’t write down his mental notes to Hannelore, I am convinced he believes his own lies. I was so disgusted by his thoughts. At one point, he said that it was inconvenient and thoughtless of women to get pregnant during the war. However, that is not nearly the most awful thing he did.
Besides some of the protagonists, I also got attached to side characters, like Ingrid and Poet.
This book was very unproblematic. Most of the time, my reviews are filled with things I didn’t like. Even when I rate books highly. Besides Alfred, who we weren’t supposed to like, there was nothing I didn’t appreciate. I’m aware of the fact that I am a very critical reader, so for me to say that this book was perfect, means a lot.
I was hesitating whether I was going to include in my thesis on diversity. It doesn’t feature any LGBTQ-themes or people of colour, but it’s still such an important novel. Furthermore, it features characters with disabilities: Ingrid is blind and Florian is deaf in one ear.
Besides, it shows how fear makes people do the most selfish and horrible things. Salt to the Sea isn’t a fluffy story. Some stuff was very hard to read. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be told. Even people who didn’t support Hitler or Stalin, weren’t above doing monstrous things.
Finally, this convinced me to read more historical fiction. I am going to be a history teacher after all. And I haven’t had any bad experiences with it yet. So please, recommend me some historical fiction (does not have to be about World Wars). Furthermore, I am interested in reading stories about the war crimes the Allies committed, not only Nazi Germany.
conclusion: Salt to the Sea is the first novel I would consider life-changing for me. Make sure to read the author’s note as well! I recommend this to everyone.