Salt to the Sea

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Sepetys, Ruta

An 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 (From the publisher.)

Discussion Guide: 

1. Ruta Sepetys tells her story through four different characters. How do the four differ from one another and, more importantly, what perspectives do they bring to the story? Why might the author have chosen four points of view as opposed to a single narrative?

2. Follow-up to Question 1: Clearly, the least sympathetic character is Alfred—he borders on cartoonish in his villainy. What is his role in the novel—what does he reveal about Germany's role in the last stages of the war, and how does he help set up events on-board the ship?

3. Talk about how the relationships unfold among Joana, Emilia, and Florian.

4. Describe the conditions on the Wilhelm Gustloff. What was the most difficult hardship for you to read about?

5. Even knowing the outcome of the story (it is a real life historical event), did you find yourself turning the pages quickly? If so, how does Sepetys create suspense even when the outcome is known?

6. How might you describe this story, despite its tragedy, as hopeful?

(Questions by LitLovers.)