Even readers who do not enjoy historical fiction will be drawn into the horrors that the young narrators must face daily when war ravages their homes. Even though these characters lived in Europe 70 years ago, their voices resonate with the fear and survival instincts that still plague many in the world today. Elie Wiesel's Night is a book that still impacts my own psyche because its power is not simply in speaking for the millions who suffered during the Holocaust, but it provides witness to the tragedies and miracles of those who were victimized during World War II. Salt to the Sea unflinchingly reveals other communities and cultures who were impacted by the cruelty of not only the Nazis, but other warring nations at that time. Like Wiesel's nonfiction account, this fictional novel haunts a reader long after the book concludes.
While the Titanic gets all the glory that comes with a sinking ship, the fate of the Wilhelm Gustloff is the single greatest maritime disaster in history, yet it is not the tragedy that drives the story. The book's chapters alternate the points of view of Emilia, Joana, Alfred and Florian, and offer glimpses into the humanity and horror that accompanies war. With each decision that these characters must make, with every time they are almost captured or left behind, I questioned by own ability to survive with my humanity and dignity intact. They breathe life into the gruesomeness that they witness, make sacrifices that are unfathomable, forgive themselves and each other for the unspeakable, and offer hope with their compassion.