Salt to the Sea
For readers of Between Shades of Gray and All the Light We Cannot See, Ruta Sepetys returns to WWII in this epic novel that shines a light on one of the war's most devastating—yet unknown—tragedies.
World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, many with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer to safety.
Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people—adults and children alike—aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.
Told in alternating points of view and perfect for fans of Anthony Doerr's Pulitzer Prize-winning All the Light We Cannot See, Erik Larson's Dead Wake, and Elizabeth Wein's Printz Honor Book Code Name Verity, this masterful work of historical fiction is inspired by the real-life tragedy that was the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff—the greatest maritime disaster in history. As she did in Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys unearths a shockingly little-known casualty of a gruesome war, and proves that humanity and love can prevail, even in the darkest of hours.
Praise for Salt to the Sea:
Featured on NPR's Morning Edition ♦ "Superlative...masterfully crafted...[a] powerful work of historical fiction."—The Wall Street Journal ♦ "[Sepetys is] a master of YA fiction…she once again anchors a panoramic view of epic tragedy in perspectives that feel deeply textured and immediate."—Entertainment Weekly ♦ "Riveting...powerful...haunting."—The Washington Post ♦ "Compelling for both adult and teenage readers."—New York Times Book Review ♦ "Intimate, extraordinary, artfully crafted...brilliant."—Shelf Awareness ♦ "Historical fiction at its very, very best."—The Globe and Mail ♦ "[H]aunting, heartbreaking, hopeful and altogether gorgeous...one of the best young-adult novels to appear in a very long time."—Salt Lake Tribune ♦ *"This haunting gem of a novel begs to be remembered."—Booklist ♦ *"Artfully told and sensitively crafted...will leave readers weeping."—School Library Journal ♦ A PW and SLJ 2016 Book of the Year
Praise for Between Shades of Gray:
A New York Times Notable Book ♦ A Wall Street Journal Best Children’s Book ♦ A PW, SLJ, Booklist, and Kirkus Best Book ♦ iTunes 2011 Rewind Best Teen Novel ♦ A Carnegie Medal and William C. Morris Finalist ♦ A New York Times and International Bestseller ♦ "Few books are beautifully written, fewer still are important; this novel is both."—The Washington Post ♦ *"[A]n important book that deserves the widest possible readership."—Booklist
Praise For Salt to the Sea…
"Ruta Sepetys is a master of historical fiction. In Salt to the Sea the hard truths of her herculean research are tempered with effortless, intimate storytelling, as her warm and human characters breathe new life into one of the world's most terrible and neglected tragedies." —Elizabeth Wein, New York Times bestselling author of Printz Award Honor Book Code Name Verity
“A rich, page-turning story that brings to vivid life a terrifying—and little-known—moment in World War II history.” —Steve Sheinkin, author of Newbery Honor and National Book Award finalist Bomb
"Brutal. Beautiful. Honest." —Sabaa Tahir, New York Times bestselling author of An Ember in the Ashes
* "Sepetys excels in shining light on lost chapters of history, and this visceral novel proves a memorable testament to strength and resilience in the face of war and cruelty." —Publishers Weekly, starred review
* "This haunting gem of a novel begs to be remembered, and in turn, it tries to remember the thousands of real people its fictional characters represent. What it asks of us is that their memories, and their stories, not be abandoned to the sea." —Booklist, starred review
* "Artfully told and sensitively crafted, Sepetys’s exploration of this little-known piece of history will leave readers weeping." —School Library Journal, starred review
"The inevitability of the ending (including the loss of several characters) doesn't change its poignancy, and the short chapters and slowly revealed back stories for each character guarantee the pages keep turning. Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful." —Kirkus
"This book includes all the reasons why teens read: for knowledge, for romance, for amazing and irritating characters. This novel will break readers’ hearts and then put them back together a little more whole." —VOYA
"Sepetys’s...scene-setting is impeccable; the penetrating cold of the journey is palpable, and she excels at conveying the scope of the losses while giving them a human face....[T]his elegiac tale succeeds with impressive research, affecting characters, and keen, often unsettling insights into humans’ counterposed tendencies toward evil and nobility. Readers will be left to discuss which impulse triumphs here." —The Horn Book
Philomel Books, 9780399160301, 400pp.
Publication Date: February 2, 2016
About the Author
Ruta Sepetys (www.rutasepetys.com) is an internationally acclaimed, #1 New York Times bestselling author of historical fiction published in over sixty countries and forty languages. Sepetys is considered a "crossover" novelist, as her books are read by both teens and adults worldwide. Her novels Between Shades of Gray, Out of the Easy, and Salt to the Sea have won or been shortlisted for more than forty book prizes, and are included on more than sixty state award lists. Between Shades of Gray was adapted into the film Ashes in the Snow, and her other novels are currently in development for TV and film. Winner of the Carnegie Medal, Ruta is passionate about the power of history and literature to foster global awareness and connectivity. She has presented to NATO, to the European Parliament, in the United States Capitol, and at embassies worldwide. Ruta was born and raised in Michigan and now lives with her family in Nashville, Tennessee. Follow her on Twitter @RutaSepetys and Instagram @RutaSepetysAuthor.
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
1. Salt to the Sea is told in multiple first-person narratives. How do you think this literary method strengthens the story? If only one character had been chosen to narrate, which would you choose and why?
2. As the novel opens and readers are introduced to each of the four protagonists, they are told by Joana, “Guilt is a hunter.” Florian states, “Fate is a hunter.” Emilia shares, “Shame is a hunter.” And Alfred declares, “Fear is a hunter.” What makes this common refrain such a powerful one? How does it immediately capture the internal conflict of each of these characters? What roles do guilt, fate, shame, and fear play in their respective lives?
3. Considering each of the main characters’ perspectives, in what ways is Salt to the Sea a story about things that have been lost? What does each character find along the way?
4. Repeated attention is called to Emilia’s pink hat. What do you think the hat symbolizes? How else does color play a role in the book as it pertains to the story and its characters?
5. Describe Florian, Emilia, Joana, and Alfred. What makes them dynamic characters? What are their strengths and weaknesses? While they each have their own unique story and come from different backgrounds, how are they similar to one another?
6. Why is Alfred unable to understand why Hannelore proudly proclaims, “I am Jewish!” as he tries to argue that half of her is “part of the master race”? What was your reaction to learning of Alfred’s role in the removal of Hannelore and her father?
7. Describe the “Alfred” in the imaginary letters written to Hannelore. How is he different from the “Frick” observed by those with whom he works and interacts on the Wilhelm Gustloff ? What does this dual perspective say about his character?
8. Why does Emilia attempt to conceal her pregnancy? In what ways do her memories and fantasies of August Kleist help her persevere through her trauma?
9. Florian’s father tells him, “You are Prussian. Make your own decisions, son.” What does he mean by this? In what ways do his words affect Florian’s decisions? In your opinion, does Florian succeed in heeding his father’s advice?
10. What is the significance of the title, Salt to the Sea? Given the magnitude of the tragedy of the Wilhelm Gustloff, does it accurately describe the events and relationships portrayed in the novel?