Salt to the sea by Ruta Septys was my last book from this year’s Carnegie list. Talk about saving the best ’til last…
The story opens in 1945, with a mismatched bunch of refugees trekking across the unforgiving, frozen, barren landscape. All with different stories, different fears, terrible secrets, but with a common aim; to escape the approach of the Russian army. Their aim? The coveted Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises to save them.
I’m always really keen to read anything set in World War I or II. It’s a real test of an author when they have to deal with a subject matter so heartbreaking, so real, particularly when it’s pitched to a YA audience. Creating a story that isn’t overwhelmingly depressing, but doesn’t gloss over the horrors, the truths, is a difficult feat. I’ve read some crackers over the years: The book thief, Maus, Private Peaceful, All the light we cannot see, to name but a few. Fantastic books should make you a bit uncomfortable.
I’ve never read a book about refugees in Russia. I knew nothing. I do now. I adored this book. It completely consumed me in the two days it took for me to finish it. I loved and hated some of the characters with a passion.
What shone through though was the sheer amount of research that Ruta had done to bring this tragedy to life. I’d never even heard of the disaster- more people died than in the Titanic or Lusitania- how is it possible that it can just disappear from history? An absolute travesty. As she says:
“When the survivors are gone we must not let the truth disappear with them. Please, give them a voice.”
I cannot rate this book highly enough. 5/5
My Carnegie 2017 predictions (I know I’m cutting it fine!):
Winner: Salt to the sea
Amnesty honour: The bone sparrow