“I became good at pretending. I became so good that after a while the lines blurred between my truth and fiction. And sometimes, when I did a really good job of pretending, I even fooled myself.”
― Ruta Sepetys, Salt to the Sea
This book crushed me! Despite having read and learned so much about this terrible time in our world history, I am amazed that there are constantly new aspects of it I didn't know before and which continue to stun and sadden me. Salt to the Sea, in particular touched me, because it mirrored, to a degree, what my grandmother and her family experienced. My grandmother, her little brother, her widowed mother and aunt had to flee from Silesia to escape the Russians, which is similar to why the characters in this book are moving west. Where the figures in this novel are headed toward the sea and the large ships to transport them to Kiel in Northern Germany, my grandmother and her family took another route, so I was not very familiar with this method of navigating the Baltic Sea at the time and the tremendous losses of life that occurred as a result of violence, negligence and desperation. It also made me think of the refugees trying to get across the Mediterranean Sea in recent times, and the incredible losses and hardships they have suffered.
Sepetys' method of telling the story from four points of view was beautifully done and effective in showing different motivations and mind sets at this impossible time. I don't ant to give away anything, but throughout the book, I really had to stop myself from googling what really happened, even though I knew it was building up to something tragic. I was so attached to some of the characters, I almost didn't want the book to end, fearing what might happen.
This story was heartbreaking, and if you're looking for an easy read, this is not for you. Still, I would recommend everyone read it at some point. It tells a story that is not as public as it should be, and for the sake of remembering and honoring those who fell victim to the misery and cruelty of this war, we need to learn as much as we can so that nothing like this will happen again.
As I write this, I am particularly saddened by the recent slew of tragedies and acts of violence that have occurred all over the globe. A book like Salt to the Sea and countless others teach us that unity and compassion are the most important elements of being human, and the danger when those aspects are lost can change the world for the worse and set humanity back centuries.