Salt to the Sea had a predictable ending yet the whole story was unpredictable as hell. I spent the whole afternoon crying after finishing this book. It was raw and realistic and knowing that this actually happened made it more heartbreaking.
“Guilt is a hunter.
Fate is a hunter.
Shame is a hunter.
Fear is a hunter.”
The book is narrated in 4 POVs of Joana, Florian, Emilia, and Alfred as we follow their journey during World War II to the German ship, Wilhelm Gustloff that would take the refugees to a safe land. We see a world torn in war and the people who suffer the most are the innocent ones. It was not an exception here as well.
“What had human beings become? Did war make us evil or just activate an evil already lurking within us?”
The book started off slowly, letting us sink into the war-sicken world where everyone was ready to do anything for their survival. Florian was a soldier on the run with a secret, Joana a nurse threatened by guilt and Emilia, the youngest of the three but pregnant and Polish, if anybody found out about her real identity, she would be dead in seconds. The three of them along with a few others make their journey to their only ray of hope, the Wilhelm Gustloff not knowing about the terrible fate they were going towards. It’s a no-brainer how this book was going to end, but it still hurt like hell!
“War had bled color from everything, leaving nothing but a storm of gray.”
There were various other characters but the shoe-poet left an impression even after I turned the final pages. His words of wisdom were something that should never be forgotten. But Alfred was a character I detested, I didn’t like his chapters but his role becomes prominent in the last quarter of the book. He lived in his own world, he was dumb and self-centred and he got what he deserved in the end.
The war was described vividly through the eyes of the common people and what they had to face. People were being killed mercilessly and there was danger in each step. Everyone had a heartbreaking story, but Emilia’s just broke my heart. Even though that wound was something never to be healed but Joana made her realise the importance of life.
“When the survivors are gone we must not let the truth disappear with them. Please, give them a voice.”
And I will be eternally grateful to the author for giving them a voice.
Everything speeds up in the last quarter of the book. I was actually pretty afraid to move forward because I was dreading the ending. Everything just turns upside down. Every single thing. The sinking of Wilhelm Gustloff just broke my heart, I had to stop so many times because I just couldn’t stop crying. The Germans had done terrible things to the Russians but killing a shipload of innocent people, in turn, was not the answer. Actually, war is never the answer. It only takes, it doesn’t give anything back and you are left with a hollow and emptiness forever. And it’s the 21st century now, people still don’t get it.
Overall, Salt to the Sea was an eye-opening experience since I was unaware of the incident which was the most disastrous in maritime history. What made this book a fast read was because each of the POVs was pretty short, rarely 1 to 2 pages and we got to see the 4 characters and the things going around them from their respective point of views which made the story progress with an equal flow. I think this is a book everyone should read in their lifetime.
P.S. The sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff is the deadliest disaster in maritime history, with losses dwarfing the death tolls of the famous ships Titanic and Lusitania. On January 30, 1945, four torpedoes waited in the belly of Soviet submarine S-13 which ultimately led to the demise of more than over 9000 civilian refugees, including children, on board.
So guys, have you read this yet?Is it in your tbr?