I remember watching “Titanic” for the first time and refusing to get sucked in by Jack, Rose and their brief but ill-fated romance (though I did shed a tear for the brave string quartet, who serenaded the sinking ship with a dignified rendition of “Nearer, my God, to Thee”) because the ending was a foregone conclusion.
So when I read the book jacket for Salt to the Sea, about the actual worst maritime disaster that I had never heard of, I wondered how author Ruta Septys would tell the story of the Wilhelm Gustloff in a way that would escape the feeling of inevitability without actually escaping the inevitable.
Septys kept things lively by dedicating a good part of the story to the dynamics between three of the four POV characters as they journey from somewhere frozen in Prussia to the equally frigid port where the Wilhelm Gustloff and the fourth character await.
For Joana, a young Lithuanian nurse separated from her family–pay attention to who her relatives are–guilt is a hunter.
For Florian, a disillusioned Prussian teenager on a secret high stakes mission, fate is a hunter.
For Emilia, a Polish girl caught between the Germans and the Russians, shame is a hunter.
For Alfred, a sailor on the Wilhelm Gustloff desperate to prove himself to the girl next door and to the Third Reich, fear is a hunter.