Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Book Review: Salt to the Sea

A fictional novel depicting a real event; during 1945, hundreds of thousands of civilians were desperate, destitute and sick of war. Running through East Prussia, attempting to avoid the wrath of soldiers from both sides, this book uses a multi person narrative to describe the event from all sides. Four young people, different nationalities and situations. Joana is a Lithuanian nurse, headstrong, confident and a natural leader. Florian is Prussian, a mysterious man who is clearly attempting to slip through the net and is hiding a lot of secrets. Emilia is Polish, young, pregnant and alone - desperate to find safety and security in another country, outside of Eastern Europe. Alfred is German, a newly recruited sailor and a lover of Hitler’s regime. Each of them are boarding the ships across countries for their own reasons, but ultimately, each of them are determined to see the war end. Freedom from war is the ultimate dream for everyone in this novel. The text was laid out fairly easily, with the narrating characters name as the title of each chapter; to begin with, it was a little confusing as you need to engross yourself in the story to understand who is who. My favourite narrator was Joana; not only because she was incredibly astute and noticed even the littlest of details, but because she was genuinely caring. She was determined to help as many people as possible, regardless of their age, race or gender whilst attempting to stay alive herself.

As the novel developed, so did each of the narrators and their acquaintances; for example, Joana was with a group attempting to hide from soldiers in the forest and escape to the ports. Alongside her were a variety of others, an elderly man, a young blind girl, an orphaned little boy and a German lady who was convinced that everyone is a spy. Emilia was saved from a soldier by Florian, who instantly becomes her saviour, so she in turn shoots a solider in defence of Florian; the pair meet the other group on their travels and reluctantly tag along. Florian in particular is not at all comfortable in being within a group, although there are benefits to travelling in numbers. Alfred’s narrative differs a lot compared to the other three, mostly due to his being in letter form to a girl from home. Judging by the way that he describes his duties, he thinks a lot more of himself than anyone else does, including the girl he writes to; even in his letters to her, they’re always in his head. Arguably, this is a sign of mental illness. Not only talking to himself, about himself, but also convincing himself that the girl he is obsessed with returns his affections. Regardless of what each of them are internally suffering, the four young people are brought together entirely by the circumstance of war. Each of them has a secret, each of which is revealed after the plot begins to shape. From the first few pages, this book gripped me. The descriptions of their hunger, fear and determination made each situation that was thrust upon them so incredibly real and heartbreaking made this book an absolute page turner for me.

Each of the characters made their own sacrifices, for their own reasons, but Emilia was the biggest surprise of all. Three of them had good arguments for why they were fighting for freedom and their narrative wasn’t only interesting but allowed for information about ordinary people, how their lives had been devastated by war. The fourth narrative voice was so difficult to read at times, it was impossible to argue with their point of view, as it was just so wrong but understandably, it was an important part of why the war was ongoing and it also added another layer to the overall plot line. One of the reasons that this book was such a pleasurable read was that although it is historical fiction, it wasn’t overrun with facts or pushing history onto the reader. Yes, history had a massive part of the telling of this story and although it is ultimately fiction, this novel genuinely read as though it was truly real life although that is because of Sepetys’ beautiful variation of true events from a fictional standpoint. She mixed truth and fiction so seamlessly, if I didn’t know better when reading this book I could’ve easily believed that all of this novel was entirely factually accurate. Which is fantastic, really. That is exactly what you want when reading a historical novel, to feel as though you are there with the character, living, breathing and seeing everything that they are. As much as this novel was brutal, vicious and cruel at times, that is what made it so perfect as that is exactly what epitomises war.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by how much this book caught my attention. I’d been meaning to read it for months and kept getting distracted by other titles, which I don’t regret, but I do wish I’d given this more of a chance at an earlier point. I cannot fault the writing style of Ruta Sepetys in this novel at any point; the use of four young narrators worked beautifully as each of them had their own issues, their own past and future to fight for as well as the way that she used fact and fiction to depict a harsh reality of war using only words. I loved the short, sharp chapters and often change of narrator, it kept each situation fresh, alongside the excellently executed ending. One of the reasons why I loved this novel so much was the additional explanation of the real life event that this book represented by the author; the fact that she had researched and contacted various museums, relatives and survivors of such a horrific event truly made me understand how hard that time frame must have been. For a Young Adult novel, this is a very intense version of events, although it is also realistic which isn’t a bad thing. It’s important to remember the past and this kind of book does history justice. I read this book in around a day, I cried, I forgot to breathe but as I’ve said many times before, I love a book that makes me think. This was easily a 5 star read for me and I’d recommend it for mature young adults and above. It doesn’t read like a YA novel, so if that genre is not usually your thing, give this book a try as I promise it will be worth it.

1 comment:

  1. I really want to read this now! My June favourites is now up and mentions my Diary of Vogue by Alexandra Shulman which I am also loving!

    Abbey Hearts xx


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