Series or Standalone: Standalone
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, War
Publication Date: February 2nd 2016
“What had human beings become? Did war make us evil or just activate an evil already lurking within us?”
Wow. Admittedly, this was not a book I anticipated enjoying. Historical Fiction is a genre I’m so unfamiliar with, but with the small selection of audiobooks my library has… it was naturally next on my list to get to. This was also one of the best audiobook experiences I’ve had thus far. It’s the first experience where I’ve listened to a book with a full cast of characters and it makes such a difference.
Salt to the Sea is the untold story of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a German cruise ship that was transformed into a military vessel for the purpose of evacuating civilians and military personal from Gotenhafen during World War II. Despite it being the largest maritime tragedy to occur in history, very little is known about it.
This is a haunting, yet sophisticated young adult novel. Sepetys writing coupled with the voice work was tremendous at illustrating this disastrous moment in history, as well as the struggles and resilience of those living through it.
This story is told from the perspective of four main characters – Joana, a young Lithuanian nurse; Emilia, a polish teenager; Florian, a Prussian art preservationist and Alfred; a diligent Nazi soldier. Each of the characters are from different countries and possess their own motivations (and secrets) that help them persevere through this war. Each personality is distinct from another and the voice work really aides Sepety’s writing in creating memorable and personable characters.
More on the voice work, the respective voice actors Jorjeana Marie, Cassandra Morris, Will Damron and Michael Crouch were superb choices for this voice cast. They bought the characters to life and added great depth and nuance to them as well.
Personally, I know I wouldn’t have enjoyed reading the physical copy as I enjoyed the audiobook. I can tell it would’ve been a bit of a tedious read, as it is slow-paced and really character focused. Furthermore, the chapter lengths are exceptionally short, reviewers who read the physical copy have commented that this aspect result in emotional disconnect. I think the voice work is strong enough here that it overcomes this. Ultimately because of this, I would highly recommend the audiobook for those interested in reading this book or those wanting to venture into historical fiction genre.
What do you think of Salt to the Sea? Are there any books similar you might recommend? Or do you typically not read historical fiction either?