Book Review: Salt to the Sea

Keelin what kind of books do you not like to read? One might be asking. Truthfully, I like reading anything well written and entertaining. Which means, anything really. Bonus points for being informational. This is one of those books with a big disclaimer.

Movie rating: PG-13 maybe rated R if the team really wants to punch you in the gut. I think it’s unnecessary.

This story is historical fiction. It takes place within a real circle of events, but with fictional people. If you want to be happy when you’re reading a book, I have to say this might not be the right fit. I thought it was important to read, as I didn’t know about this- and I have spent a lot of time learning about World War Two.

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Four refugee from four countries, brought together by war and simple chance: the sea- boats, a chance out of the ravaged Eastern European countries they once called home. The Russian and German armies are equally terrifying for their savagery. Four people, four languages, four stories that intertwine as they approach salvation on the Wilhelm Gustloff. The boat that held hope for so many people trying to find peace in their war torn lives.

Regarding the writing: This book gets a little confusing at first. Finding each character’s voice takes a moment. You have to remember that they come from Poland, or Germany, that they speak this or that or… or… or…the rhythm eventually hits and you can flow along with the story. The perspective shifts quickly and sometimes time jumps forward or back to have some perspective overlap. Other than this, it is an easy enough read. Until it rips your heart out a few times.

Once you find their voices, you are wrapped in a story of painful hope. Most of us are at least somewhat aware of what the world was like during World War Two, what being a refugee or worse must have been like. We forget these gray areas today, we want to think it was either Nazi or not. That simplicity doesn’t account for difficult decisions people had to make. We want to be the good people, or think we would be the good people. In a similar vein, we forget that Stalin killed more people than Hitler but at one point, he was on the right side. Shades of gray are hard for us all to manage, and this book blinds you with this harsh reality. It gives us someone to mourn, in a way.

It is not a happy book. I needed to hug my dogs when it was done. Learning about the Wilhelm Gustlaff, however, that is important- and I recommend this book to anyone who can steel themselves for a few hours- and then read a little about the Wilhelm Gustlaff to honor the gray areas of history.

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