Every summer, the Reaud Honors College at Lamar University offers enrolled students a unique opportunity to participate in a summer reading. With this voluntary ‘project’, students are allowed to pick from a list of books and discuss them with other honors students and faculty at a set meeting once school starts. This allows students to meet new people who are either students or faculty at the Reaud Honors College.
With that being said, I chose to read the historical fiction novel by Ruta Sepetys, Salt to the Sea. To be quite honest, I had to put the book down several times as I read through, simply because the content- based on fact- was emotionally overwhelming. This novel is set in Germany during WWII and focuses on four people from very different backgrounds. The four characters end up together on the MV Wilhelm Gustloff, a real ship that sunk killing nearly ten times as many people as the sinking of the Titanic. As if the story itself isn’t tragic as is, most of these victims were women and children who were trying to escape war-torn Germany. As with many WWII stories, no heart-string is left un-pulled throughout this book and no detail is left untold. With that being said, Salt to the Sea is what I would consider a very ‘raw’ novel that tells the stories of victims who have been silenced by icy waters.
At the discussion, I was met by five other students and the professor who would lead the discussion. Discussing this novel wasn’t the most comfortable or easiest discussion, as waves of shock and sorrow would come and go as we dug deeper into the story behind Salt to the Sea. We talked about the author’s approach to introducing the characters, the gore and realness of the book, and even went as far as to discuss why this story was left untold to so many.
From opening the book up until the group discussion, the story of these victims has stuck with me and I think about them often. I think about why we weren’t ever told about the MV Wilhelm Gustloff, and where those victims could’ve been today had the ship not been shot down.
For more information on Salt to the Sea, the author, or how to purchase the novel, visit Ruta Sepetys’ website.