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Salt to the Sea    by Ruta Sepetys order for
Salt to the Sea
by Ruta Sepetys
Order:  USA  Can
Penguin, 2016 (2016)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This absorbing historical, Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys, takes place towards the end of World War II, following an assortment of desperate refugees trying to survive in East Prussia, and to make their way to safety - a timely topic today. The tale is told in the alternating voices of four teenagers who all have closely held secrets.

Joana, from Lithuania, has nursing experience and leads a group of fifteen including a blind young woman, a small child and an elderly shoemaker. Prussian Florian (whose secret is the most dangerous one, a key to stolen art treasures) saves pregnant Polish Emilia from a Russian rapist and she clings closely to him thereafter, despite his efforts to shake her off. Alfred is a German sailor who constantly composes mental letters (his own role in events hugely magnified) to Hannelore. We only learn his relationship to this young woman late in the novel.

The first three travel together and separately, fleeing the Soviet advance and heading to the coast, where they hope to win passage to refuge on Alfred's ship, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Not all will survive the journey, and perhaps not all should.

Though this novel is aimed at a YA audience, older readers of historical fiction will appreciate it as well. The conclusion is heartrending but a satisfying one. And don't miss the Author's Note at the back of the book, that explains the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff as 'the deadliest disaster in maritime history ... Yet remarkably, most people have never heard of it.'

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