Sepetys, Ruta. Salt to the Sea. Philomel Books, 2016.
image from: http://rutasepetys.com
Summary (from http://rutasepetys.com)
Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer toward safety. Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.
A tribute to the people of Lithuania, Poland, and East Prussia, Ruta Sepetys unearths a shockingly little-known casualty of a gruesome war, and proves that humanity can prevail, even in the darkest of hours.
This is a well researched historical fiction book, but I felt like I was reading narrative nonfiction. Refugees are fleeing Germany during WWII. The story is told from the 4 characters (Joana, Florian, Emilia, and Alfred) points of view, but there are other characters who hold a prominent place. Each story is not what it seems at first. I liked how the opening lines of each character was parallel ("_____ is a hunter" (Sepetys 1, 3, 5,7). Each character had a different noun hunting them. Sepetys brought this noun hunter back around towards the end of the novel.
One of my favorite, non-main characters was the "shoemaker poet." He often said, "the shoes always tell the story." How wise he was about that.
At one point, I thought of how these refugees were almost like the pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales. We, as the reader, are traveling along and learning about their lives.
I did not like Alfred the more I learned of him. At first, I thought he was just imaginative. Florian realizes that Alfred is "a sociapath in training" (Sepetys 280). Yes, I would agree!
The title reference is on page 357.
The ending chapters of this book are so vivid. I felt like I saw what the characters saw (I don't want to ruin it here, but it is full of emotion).
Sepetys includes an author's note at the back that explains to the reader how she came to write this story. It is not biographical, but she does honor her family's heritage by writing about this event. She also includes other sources for information.
ADDED 5/8/17--I got to meet Ruta Sepetys at TLA this year!