Salt to the Sea Review

Ruta Sepetys’ Salt to the Sea is an incredibly moving novel that follows the journey of four young people fleeing the approaching Russian army in the last months of WWII.

What you can steal

1. Sepetys’ incredible, sparse prose

Sepetys writes with astonishing clarity. Her chapters are short, her sentences bare, but her characters are rich and this book struck me, hard.

This kind of writing takes talent. It’s one thing to wax poetic and stuff unnecessary adjectives into your sentences (I’m guilty of that one), but it’s another thing entirely to cut your writing to the bone. Sepetys does it gracefully. I’m sure she’s worked extremely hard to achieve this style, but it comes off as effortless, beautiful.

Her style is especially appropriate in the scenes which contain graphic descriptions of death and violence. If written with a heavy hand, these scenes would’ve come off as mawkish or overly dramatic, but her simple words ground readers in the reality of the moment.

2. Her well-drawn characters

The first four chapters, introductions of the four main characters, begin with the same device: “Fear is a hunter.” “Shame is a hunter.” “Guilt is a hunter.” “Fate is a hunter.” Throughout the novel, Sepetys deftly examines each of these core motives to create characters who deeply feel and deeply want—and, by extension, readers who root for them.

3. Her dedication to telling untold stories

This is Sepetys’ second historical novel based on a history that’s mostly been overlooked. Like Between Shades of Gray, Salt to the Sea gives voice to the voiceless and educates readers on a long forgotten tragedy—the story of the Wilhelm Gustloff.

Final word

Read this book. It’s haunting, uplifting, utterly bleak, full of hope. These characters will draw you in, keep you turning the pages, and stay with you long after the final chapter.

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