It's been a long time since I read a fictional book set in World War II. It's not that I've grown tired of the genre, I just feel like I've read some of the best the genre has put out. And yet, towards the end of 2016, I started to see a lot of people talking about Ruta Repetys novel Salt to the Sea. It's one one of the first books I've read in 2017 and I have to say it left me with completely mixed feelings.
I listened to the audiobook and the production value was top-notch. The novel is told through the perspective of four young adults, all dealing with different problems on their way (or already onboard) the MV Wilhelm Gustloff. As the author discusses at the end of the novel this was a cruise ship that was used to move refugees out of war-torn Germany at the tail end of World War II. The vessel was hit by three torpedoes from a Russian submarine that killed nearly all of the 10,000 onboard (roughly 9,000).
Salt to the Sea is not only the story of three of the four characters journey to the ship, but also of a Nazi soldier who was onboard. These were all fictional accounts and sadly although the tale was tragic the story gets lost in some high flung conspiracies that make this novel a bit over the top. Each of the characters has this large and for a few over-the-top arc that doesn't feel needed. A great example of that is a man they call the Shoe Poet, who sold shoes before the war. He literally spends the entire novel talking about the shoes of everyone they pass. It wasn't needed, nor did it add anything to the story.
The moments that I love of Salt to the Sea were trampled by stories that didn't need to be there. I think a more personal, smaller, tale of refugee's trying to escape Germany before the Russian's made it there, and there story of doing everything they could to survive would have been a more interesting and engaging read then what this turned out to be. A page turner for sure, but sadly not one that will stick with me for very long.