Salt to the Sea

Salt to the Sea


Ruta Sepetys

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Salt to the Sea Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Ruta Sepetys's Salt to the Sea. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Ruta Sepetys

The daughter of a Lithuanian refugee, Sepetys was born in Detroit, Michigan and spent her childhood there. She entered college intending to be an opera singer, but graduated with a degree in International Finance. After college she spent two decades managing her own company, the Sepetys Entertainment Group, which looked after musicians and composers. In 2011 Sepetys published her first novel, Between Shades of Gray, which is about a girl deported from Lithuania and sent to a labor-camp in Siberia. Salt to the Sea is her third novel. Today, Sepetys lives in Nashville, Tennessee.
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Historical Context of Salt to the Sea

The book takes place at the end of the Second World War, which involved many of the world’s nations, but was primarily fought between the Axis (Germany, Italy, and Japan) and Allies (the United States, Soviet Union, United Kingdom, China, and others). Although fought primarily in Europe, the “theatre of war” extended to the Mediterranean, North Africa and the Pacific Ocean. Salt to the Sea looks specifically at far Eastern Europe, and the (former) nation of East Prussia, the territory of which is now split between Russia, Poland, and Lithuania. By 1945, the German forces were clearly losing, as Allied forces advanced from both the West and the East. Civilians were forced to flee north towards the Baltic Sea, where they hoped German ships would transport them to safety. Only certain citizens would be allowed to evacuate, and the Nazi party had already murdered many others. Beginning in 1933, Nazi Germany passed increasingly oppressive laws, singling out and maligning groups they saw as “undesirable.” While this group was primarily composed of Jewish people, it included the Polish, gay people, Jehovah’s witnesses, and people with disabilities. These groups were corralled into camps where they were systematically murdered. Those who managed to escape, like the fictional Emilia (the character at the heart of Salt to the Sea), were forced to conceal their identities in order to pass freely through German-held territories. The climax of the book, the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, is a real-life event. The ship’s sinking marked the greatest loss of life ever recorded from the sinking of a single ship; however, the story was not as widely publicized as other famous shipwrecks, like the Titanic or Lusitania.

Other Books Related to Salt to the Sea

Salt to the Sea is related to Sepetys’ other WWII novel, Between Shades of Gray. In both books, Sepetys sought to tell the “lost stories” of people who had been unable to tell their own stories about the horrors and complexities of war. Salt to the Sea also shares many similarities withother young adult novels dealing with WWII and the Holocaust, specifically those that focus on the experiences of children and young adults, like The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Number the Stars by Lois Lowery, Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli, or The Diary of Anne Frank.
Key Facts about Salt to the Sea
  • Full Title: Salt to the Sea
  • When Written: 2010s
  • Where Written: Tennessee
  • When Published: 2016
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Setting: East Prussia
  • Climax: The Sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff
  • Antagonist: Alfred; Fascism and the Nazi Party; the Soviets
  • Point of View: First person, from the perspective of four different characters

Extra Credit for Salt to the Sea

Unofficial Sequel. One of the protagonists of Salt to the Sea, Joana Vilkas, is the cousin of the protagonist in Sepetys’ first novel, Lina Vilkas, who appears in Between Shades of Gray.

Untold Stories. In both of her careers, as an entertainment manager and as an author, Sepetys has focused on making sure under-told stories were made accessible to the general public. In her novels, she enjoys writing from the perspectives of children and young adults, who are often left out of historical narratives.