Wednesday, February 17, 2016

REVIEW (well, sort of): Salt to the Sea - Ruta Sepetys


I will never get tired of reading historical fiction. Just when you think you've read enough on WWII from all angles, a book like this comes along and nudges you to look even closer to see things your so-called experienced eyes have missed.

Sepetys says that 'stories of strength through struggle' inspire her work, especially since she's the daughter of a refugee. That's what birthed this book - a successor to her Between Shades of Gray; the book that introduced me to this phenomenon that is her. She wants the world to know and remember what layers of debris resulting from the more flamboyant historical fallout, have hidden underneath and I am very much smitten with her for it.

I admit my shameful ignorance of the Wilhelm Gustloff and thank Sepetys for remedying it. But the truth is that that's not what shocked me the most in this book. What truly horrified me was not the sheer scale of the atrocity, but the less flashy, more relatable kinds of horrors, like - 

Or this - 

But I'm jumping ahead of myself. This book follows the lives of a very interesting motley of refugees. And that of one psychopath-in-training,

Initially, I was mightily creeped out by Alfred's POV accounts and dreaded his chapters. I kept questioning its purpose throughout the book and it was only towards the end that it struck me that even he needs a voice. It's not enough psychopaths like him and Hitler roared all they liked on radios and megaphones - we need to know what really went inside their heads where they were held captives so that we can give them our pity.

But back to Joana and Florian and Emilia and the Shoe Poet and the Orphan Boy and Eva and Ingrid. This is where the book triumphs in the story it is trying to tell. When humanity shines through even when all else is lost. 

So even after I've waxed eloquent about this book, I feel like I'd be lying if I won't admit that I didn't love this book to pieces like I prophesied to myself. I had the same problem with BSoG. The endings of both books left me mildly dissatisfied. This pretty much feels like blasphemy, but I'm missing out on the magic Sepetys did with Out of the Easy. Maybe she felt a pressured need to give justice to the characters in BSoG and SttS and not offend in any way, but I sense a restraint in her writing in this book, unlike in OotE. I don't want to sound pretentious - there's a 150% chance I'm wrong - I was just going out on a limb here.

The last paragraph is a personal opinion; you probably won't find it anywhere else. There's a 150% chance you'll love this book to pieces though.

VERDICT: 4 stars

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