Salt to the Sea

Salt to the Sea

Salt to the Sea

by Ruta Sepetys

Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Published: February 2nd 2016
by Philomel Books




Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four secrets. Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies…and war.

As thousands of desperate refugees flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom.

Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. NotΒ country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.


While I didn’t quite enjoy this as much as Ruta Sepetys’ debut novel Between Shades of Gray, I still found Salt to the Sea to be an informative and emotional story about one of history’s biggest maritime tragedies.

Torpedo strike: Approximately 9:15 pm
Passengers on Board: 10,573.
Lifeboats: 22.
But then I remembered: 10 of the lifeboats were missing.

On January 30th, 1945, the Wilhelm Gustloff sunk after being hit by torpedoes. Over 10,000 people were on board, most of them refugees hoping to escape the atrocities of World War II. Only an estimated 1,000 passengers survived – a smaller survival rate than the Titanic.

Salt to the Sea follows four teenagers – Joana, Florian, Emilia and Alfred – as they board the doomed ship.

Each of the four teens have well-developed and thorough backstories. They are each burdened by the horrors of war and the secrets they each carry, and it’s heartbreaking to see what heavy burdens they carry.

The story alternates between these four teens’ perspectives, but each chapter was typically only 2-3 pages long. Because the changes in perspective were so frequent and rapid, it was a bit hard to connect to the characters on a deeper level.

Not many people know about the tragedy of the Gustloff, but Salt to the Sea makes it impossible to forget. This is a well-researched and eye-opening account that I highly recommend.

More than 10,000 people had been on board the Gustloff. The gruesome details of the sinking would be reported in every world newspaper. The tragedy would be studied for years, become legendary.


56 thoughts on “Salt to the Sea

    1. I know you’re not much of a historical fiction fan Anissa, so I can see where you’re coming from. If you ever do feel in the mood for a good historical book though, definitely do give this a try. Thank you!

  1. I can see how the rapid switch in perspectives affected your enjoyment of the book. That actually happened to me recently with The Skylighter. I really want to try this book because it’s such an informative novel as well as an emotional one, but I need to be in a certain mood to read books like this.
    I’m happy to hear this is one you recommend, Zoe!
    Lovely review!

    1. Yeah, I feel if the chapters were just a bit longer than it would have been way more emotional and affecting. Thanks Nick! <3

  2. See, I didn’t know about the Gustloff, so it was interesting to read (well, not interesting, but you know what I mean) and totally agree, I couldn’t connect to the characters either because of how short the chapters were, but it’s what kept me reading and basicaslly read it in three hours because I couldn’t stop reading. Definitely an eye opener, and it was my first book of hers, too, so will have to check out her others.

    1. I’m glad I’m not the only one who felt that way. This covers such a tragic time in history, but because of how short the chapters were I wasn’t as affected emotionally as I normally would have been. And definitely do check out her other book Between Shades of Gray – it is such a beautiful and powerful story.

  3. I hadn’t heard of the Gustloff tragedy before I read the synopsis of this book, but wow that sounds horrific. D:You’ve got me curious about this story now! Great review, Zoe!

    1. So glad I’ve perked your curiosity on this! It really is an eye-opening story about such an unknown tragedy. Curious to see what you think of it if you decide to read it! Thank you! <3

  4. I read Between Shades of Gray two years ago and it moved me to tears. I have this one on my TBR because when it was released there were reviews everywhere, which conviced me to buy it. I understand that you had a hard time connecting with the characters since their chapters were quite short and changing all the time. I’m still excited about this one because I’ll learn a lot about this event. I had never heard about it before this book btw. Have you read Ruta Sepetys’ other book, Out of the Easy? I haven’t heard a lot about this one, I’m considering picking it up. Great review, Zoe! πŸ™‚

    1. I absolutely loved Between Shades of Gray too (it made me cry as well), so it’s a shame that this one isn’t quite as emotionally moving. And I have read Out of the Easy! I really liked it, although not quite as much as BSoG. (Not surprising, as that one’s hard to beat). Thanks Lucie! <3

  5. Hmm, it’s too bad you didn’t like Salt to the Sea as much as Between Shades of Grey, but considering how good the author’s debut is, that still leaves plenty of room for this one to be great. Your comment about not being able to connect to the characters makes me wary, but I absolutely love stories that give me a glimpse into a lesser-known time in history. Fingers crossed I’ll have a good experience!

    1. I’m curious to see what you think of this one Emily if you end up reading it. It’s such an eye-opening look into one of the most overlooked maritime tragedies, but, because of the short chapter lengths, it isn’t nearly as emotional as BSoG.

  6. I recently purchased this book and I am so excited to read it. It’s been one of my most anticipated books of the year mainly because the Gustloff tragedy is one that is usually overlooked when researching World War II. I’ve heard some mixed views on the short chapters. Some say that it helps keep the pace going while other, like you say that it made it hard to connect with the characters. I’m glad you enjoyed the book. Lovely review. πŸ˜€

    1. I completely agree. When you think of WWII, the first thing that usually comes to mind is the Holocaust or D-Day, not the horrible Gustloff tragedy.

      And I think that’s what I like so much about blogging: we all have our different takes on things, and it’s really interesting to see how someone may love some aspect of a book that we didn’t. Curious to see what you think of this, and thank you! <3

  7. I’m not a HUGE fan of multiple POVs in general but when they switch so much and so often…Plus, like you said, it’s hard to connect to the characters, which I imagine would have gone a long way in a book like this. Still, it sounds like this one is worth a read!

  8. Waiting for this book to be available in bookstores in Indonesia. Between Shades of Gray holds a special place in my heart, and I hope somehow this will earn a place there too. Nice review, Zoe!

    1. I hope you end up liking this one as much as you did Between Shades of Gray (it holds a special place in my heart too xD).

  9. Sepetys’s Out of the Easy is on my TBR but I’ve heard much about her writing style. I have read very few books on the WWII so my knowledge on this areas is limted as it is as it is but I’ve never heard of Gustloff.

    And that’s truly shameful considering the fact that it is reported to be the largest loss of life of 9,400 in a single ship sinking. Thanks for putting both this book and the incident on my radar, Zoe! I’m generally a fan of multiple POVs so I’m very much intrigued by this. Sorry to hear that you didn’t enjoy it that much though-Brilliantly reviewed, girl. πŸ˜€

    1. It is such a tragedy, isn’t it? Especially when you put it in perspective and realize that more lives were lost during the sinking of the Gustloff than the Titanic. And if you’re a fan of multiple POVs you’re going to love this! Thank you Nuzaifa – can’t wait to read your thoughts on this!

  10. Aww I’m sorry that you didn’t love this as Ruta’s previous novel! <3 I haven't read any of her books but I've heard such brilliant things about them, so I'll definitely be on the lookout for her books! Lately I've been wanting to get into more historical fiction and perhaps her books would be a good place to start? πŸ™‚ Great review! <3

    1. To be completely honest, I would have been pretty surprised if I liked this as much as I liked Ruta’s previous novel because her debut is one of my favorite historical fiction novels ever. Let me know if you decide to pick up either of her books! πŸ™‚

  11. I’m glad you enjoyed this! My book club picked it as the April book, and I’m super excited to read it. I’ve heard lots of good things, and it sounds like a very emotional read. I’m sorry you couldn’t connect to the characters. Personally I really like short chapters (I find the book much easier to read this way), so hopefully I’ll feel most positively about them than you did! Amazing review, as always, Zoe – thanks for sharing your thoughts on this one! β™₯

    Denise | The Bibliolater

    1. If you like short chapters, then you’ll probably really like this one. Curious to see what you think about it! πŸ™‚

    1. If you’re not much of a historical fiction reader, then this is a great book to start with. Thank YOU for the lovely comment Geraldine! <3

  12. I actually read Nereyda’s review for this one earlier today Zoe and between the both of you, I’m hooked. I typically don’t mind short and choppy chapters, especially with my non preferred genres like fantasy and historical. We never hear the story of the Gustloff, I know it was pretty much shrouded in mystery with it being a military ship that took on civilians to escape the red Army. Really looking forward to grabbing a copy and so glad you were still able to enjoy it despite the chapter lengths. Wonderful review Zoe <3 <3

    1. If you don’t mind short, choppy chapters, this is going to be right up your alley Kelly. πŸ™‚ Can’t wait to see what you think of it!

  13. Oh man! I really hate it when alternating POV’s are switched around too fast, because, well, I need to connect with the characters. This does sound like a good story, though, so I’ll probably pick it up soon! YAY!

    1. The story is amazing, and it’s definitely worth the read for that in itself. Curious to see what you think of it if you decide to pick it up Aditi! πŸ™‚

  14. Oh, wow, this sounds incredibly interesting and really like something I should look into. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard of the Gustloff, or if I have I don’t recall it at this moment, so it would be interesting to read about it and learn what happened, although I do tend to have issues with multiple POVS, and if they switch around so much I think it would frustrate me quite a lot, make me feel as if I didn’t have time to get to know each character before it switched again.
    Lovely review. I think I’ll look into this one now. xx

    1. If you’re not a fan of multiple POVs, you might struggle with this one just a bit, but it’s still worth the read even despite that. Let me know what you think of it if you decide to read it! πŸ™‚ Thank you!

  15. Hmm, it’s interesting to see that the POV is switched every 2-3 pages. I can see why it can be ultimately hard to connect to them because of it! I usually really love Sepetys’s books though (like Between Shades of Gray and Out of the Easy), so I’m definitely giving this one a try soon. Wonderful review!

    1. I loved Between Shades of Gray & Out of the Easy too Aila! Curious to see what you think of this one if you decide to read it. πŸ™‚

  16. I haven’t read either of her books before but they both sound super intriguing! Good to know that you preferred her previous book – maybe I’ll start with that one! The titanic-like storyline sounds interesting though, especially since it’s based on a true story. I love well-researched historical fiction!

    1. Well-researched historical fiction is the best! xD Hope you enjoy this one as much as I did if you decide to give it a try. πŸ™‚

  17. I really enjoyed this book – so much of the history I didn’t know about. Besides I always love learning when it doesn’t feel like learning πŸ™‚ Great review! Also count me as a new follower – your blog is lovely!

    1. So glad you enjoyed it as much as I did Sarah! And that’s what I loved about it too – it was informative without feeling like a textbook. πŸ˜‰ And thank you so much – you just made my day! ♥

  18. I have this and between shades of grey on audibook, and I loved Out of the Easy. So far Salt to the Sea is awesome– Septys has AMAZING writing, and her stories are really powerful. thanks for the review

  19. I just read another really lovely review about this book, and it’s made me intrigued about the history of the Gustloff. I personally did not know about the sinking of this ship β€” but that’s what I love about historical fiction, it educates you and entertains at the same time. I’ll definitely be adding this one to the TBR. Thanks for the lovely review Zoe xx

    1. I completely agree Joy! It’s so interesting to learn about historical events, and Sepetys did just that here. It was informative without feeling like a textbook. πŸ˜‰ Thank YOU for the lovely comment! <3

  20. Hmmm… I do love historical, and I remember when I mentioned that I wanted to read a historical, realistic, no-romance YA novel, some time ago, on my twitter, someone did mention this book. May be I’ll keep an eye out for this one? Never read anything by this author though… you mentioned her debut novel being better… do you think I should start there, in your opinion?

    Thanks for stopping by A Simple Digest!

    1. This is definitely a great book if you want a realistic historical fiction novel. There’s a little romance, but it stays in the background and doesn’t overpower the story. And ahh…that’s a hard question. I’d say start with this one and then read her debut. That way you can work your way from good –> amazing. πŸ˜‰

  21. Every review I have seen of Salt to the Sea has been wonderful, but I don’t think any of those reviewers had read Between Shades of Gray, so they didn’t have any comparison of Sepety’s writing. I personally loved Between Shades of Gray, so I’ll see how this one turns out to be.

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