Thursday, 17 March 2016

Salt to the Sea


Book Title: Salt to the Sea
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Date Started: March 14th 2016
Date Completed: March 16th 2016
Genres: Historical, Mystery, Romance
Quality Rating: Five Stars
Enjoyment Rating: Four Star
Final Rating: Five stars

◆ Thank you NetGalley for this eBook copy for review ◆

I was really surprised at how engaged I was with Salt to the Sea throughout the entire book. In fact even when I put it down and went to do other things I could not stop thinking about it. I'm not really a fan of WW2 fiction but the exploration of people who are often ignored, especially in Western literature around WW2, was really interesting and eye-opening. But even beyond that, it was really enjoyable just as a reading experience, and very well written for the age range considering a lot of the subject matter.

Sepetys has a really nice writing style that's very nice at giving subtle differences in voices. I especially liked the way you could distinguish each perspective and the sorts of ages the characters were before we were really told anything about them. But the real praise needs to go to how well she's integrated actual historical information. Although I knew this was loosely based on real experiences refugees had during, but I didn't know until I'd finished reading and was looking at the brief afterword that I realised it was actually impressively accurate when it comes to historical events. It's shocking that such a huge event (that I don't want to go into too much, despite it being a real life disaster, because I think reading it yourself will explain it better) isn't even known in common knowledge, but this is a brilliant way to raise awareness.

Salt to the Sea is a difficult and at times harrowing story, but in a way that you can still read it and understand from a reader's perspective. I've read a lot of war stories that just focus on the suffering and hardship of its victims, and while that's a huge part of the genre, it sometimes feels so detached and unrealistic because of how one-sided it is. I enjoyed Salt to the Sea so much because it showed different sides to these experiences, where the characters can go from terrified to laughing to crying to loving. To portray a story like this you need to be able to capture humans as they are, and humans are volatile in how their act in situations. Yes, there's suffering. But actually there's more than that, and the mere fact that there's more is what makes going through these things meaningful in the end.
I thought the progression of the story was also really well done, with everything leading up to the climax but you don't realise it until it's too late. And of course, the ending itself was perfect. So fitting for the story Sepetys was telling, and bittersweet but satisfying from a reader's perspective.

This book had good and varied characters; all interesting, all believable and developed. I also really appreciated the diversity obviously in nationality, but also age, gender, ideologies, intelligence etc. A big part of this book is showing that people might be different but it's not defined by where you're from or what race it looks like you're from, and even with those differences between you, everyone deserves to be treated human. I've seen a lot of books that present this idea but don't carry it through when it comes to characters - but Sepetys did it perfectly.
Joana was my favourite, perhaps because I related to her quite quickly, but also because I really liked her depth of character. You have the maternal healer trope around her, and she's definitely the heart and soul of the group, but even though she didn't feel like she deserved that place she still kept to it. All these characters have tortured pasts, but they don't use them as excuses to feel sorry for themselves in a time of need for everyone. Joana is very vulnerable at times, but she knows what she does have the power to do, and so she works from there.
I also really loved Florian. Again, he has the big mysterious past that we slowly discover, but doesn't really matter in the end because it's how they act in the story itself that defines them. And when it came to that, I really liked how Florian's motivation meant the world to him, but suddenly it didn't matter and he found a way to be at peace with that (and not in the way you might be thinking).
I knew what was going on with Emilia the moment we got our first clue, but I liked the gradual reveal, and I liked how incredibly well it was dealt with. Considering the circumstances, the way Sepetys was able to be honest with being utterly brutal was amazing, and I think put a really positive twist not on the situation necessarily (how could you possibly do that?) but on the perseverance and importance of kindness and care from the characters.
Strangely enough, I also really liked Alfred. Well, as a person, I hated him. But that's the point. From a story-perspective, however, I thought it was really good to have someone who bought the whole Nazi propaganda because you do get the feeling that he means well. But the damage he causes from not being able to see through the lies and tyranny goes to show just how disastrous these dictators can be when put in charge of a nation that they can control so easily through fear and rumour.

The pacing of this book was well handled, giving the reader enough time to familiarise themselves with the characters and learn enough to understand their situation, but moving on before we have time to get too comfortable or bored. It's also structured in the way that each chapter flows nicely into each other so you can very easily end up reading them solidly for ages - which I definitely did. I think I read Salt to the Sea in four or five sittings overall because I didn't want to put it down.

Salt to the Sea is the perfect way to raise awareness of not just the specific events explored in the story, but also the general experiences of these people that are never talked about because they might not be at the center of all the drama of war. I'm so impressed with what Sepetys was able to do and I can't wait to read her other books because I should have read them sooner.

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