Category Archives: Humanities 8

Salt to the Sea: Saved from the Depth of the Characters

By Harshita Jain
Have you seen the Titanic? Probably. But have you ever heard about the Wilhelm Gustloff? Probably not. Surprisingly, two times the number of deaths in the Titanic took place in this tragedy.

Salt to the Sea is a book written by Ruta Sepetys to tell people about the Wilhelm Gustloff sinking, along with the 10,000 refugees. What really makes the book stand out is the character development and relationships which are nurtured by Ruta Sepetys.

Being her third book, Ruta follows a similar plot idea in her books. Her debut piece, ‘Between Shades of Gray’ is a book about “the largely forgotten plight of the Baltic peoples crushed between the great powers at the beginning of World War II” according to The New York Times. Her new feature: Salt to the Sea is also depicts a group of refugees fleeing like many others at that time to a safe land. In her interview with the Chicago Tribune, the author mentioned how she too had to do extensive research to gain knowledge about this particular incident, in order to share it with the public.

Salt to the Sea is told through the perspective of Joana, an empathetic Lithuanian nurse; Florian, a young Prussian man with fake documents; Emilia, a pregnant Polish girl; and Alfred, a self-esteemed low-ranked German soldier. The novel weaves in and out of each character’s perspective, giving the reader an insight into the feelings of all characters.

The protagonists are all introduced in a similar way. Joana’s introduction is “Guilt is a hunter.” Florian calls “Fate” a hunter. Emilia expresses that,“Shame is a hunter.” And Alfred declares, “Fear is a hunter.” This craft move by the author gives us some hint about each of the characters, and what their background might have been.

As the story unfolds, Florian discovers Emilia being molested by a Russian soldier, and saves her by shooting the soldier. Henceforth, Florian and Emilia travel together, and find Joana and her small group. Within the first few chapters, all the characters have met each other.

The intense and interesting character development has captured the reader’s attention, even before the mention of the Wilhelm Gustloff. Although Ruta Sepetys has not revealed anything about the character’s background, the reader is able to imagine the character through the actions and decisions that have been made by Joana, Florian, Emilia, or Alfred.

The characters find and share bitter truths about each other. For example, Emilia becomes pregnant because she was raped by Russian soldiers. They learn different lessons of love, friendship, and cheating. We can see this when Florian steals Joana’s belongings from her bag, and runs away. The characters share different legends from their home countries. The shoe poet, an old man travelling in this group, told tales about shoes and lessons of life. Throughout the course of the book, the characters learn a lot about each other through direct interactions. They understand the lifestyle and habits of each person. In this novel, the characters spend a great deal of time together, making it easier for the reader to connect with the complex relationships.

The character development over the course of the book can be seen clearly in the actions, dialogue, and relations. The speciality of the book is that even though the characters are fictional, the struggle of Joana, Florian, Emilia, or Alfred is thoroughly illustrated. One such example is the sinking of the ship, drowning many characters along with it. Even though Florian is a survivor, he regrets being unable to save many of his friends. The reader is able to share Florian’s pain.

To conclude, the ship is an important part of history and the book. However, what stays with the reader is the attachment to the characters, which was built through character development. Sometimes how people comprehend your actions is different from how you anticipated it. Salt to the Sea is perfect example of the author trying to get her point across, instead the reader grasps other parts of the story.

Historical fiction Narrative 

The breeze slapped my face as I climbed up to the factory. The cotton leftover 

entering my nostrils. The moist September air filled my lungs, I took one last breath and stepped into a big hall of noises. Click! Clak! Thump! Thump! Men and women running around everywhere. I looked to the right, where my spot stood lonely. All the other children had already started working. Manoj was there too. 

“Anything new?” I walked over and asked him.

“Anything new!” Manoj replied sarcastically.

All of a sudden, I found myself between all the children. They were laughing and mocking at me. 

“Anything new!” Manoj asked again.

“There hasn’t been anything new here since the first day you got this job.” 

I gazed out of the window. I knew this too well. I wish there was something new. I looked enviously at the blue sky. Those clouds enjoyed freedom, and lived life with peace. And here I am, trapped inside this hell. I was so lost in my thoughts that I didn’t notice the silence around me. Neither did I hear the water droplets fall into the drain. Pure water dropping into dirt. Just like me. A pure soul dropped into hell. But my daydreaming couldn’t change a thing. We will never get paid more, or be able to have three meals everyday. 

I was zapped out of my dreams when I saw a person limping towards me. It 

was Mr. Aadwit, owner of this factory. In short, he is the boss here, and we are his slaves. He is very much like his name, unique. He thought those large, horrible, noise making machines were better than us. He thought those lumps of wood were needed more than us orphans. Whenever he buys a new one, it’s time for one of us to lose all hope. We get kicked out of work.

I cross my fingers. He just got a new machine yesterday. I find his thin face 

pointing towards me. His sharp eyes burning my soul. 

“Debu, please come with me.” A high pitch squeak came out. 

I let go of my crossed fingers. There’s no use. I lost my job.
That night was a starless one. The thunder never stopped. I didn’t even need 

to light a candle. My world was already full of darkness. I finally slept after midnight. 

The morning was dull as well. The sun were covered by clouds. It was pretty foggy for a September morning. I walked out of a place I have known as home. I feel something under my feet. Just a scrap of paper. Then I look closely. The piece of paper said-

How could somebody throw this paper away. This could be it. This is what will lead me to the clouds. The day had become brighter. The clouds had left the sun, and continued moving around freely.

There was a huge uproar. Everyone holding big boards saying ‘No more 

foreign cloth’. All of us were so cramped together, that I could smell the sweat of a man next to me. It seemed like he hadn’t taken a shower since the last rain. My head felt hot like a coin, left to the wrath of the sun. Oh! How I long to touch a coin. I feel a push on my back. 

“Come on Debu, keep moving.” It was Manoj. He lost his job too. 

The clouds roamed around freely as always. At least the sun was better than the dark and hollow rooms of the mill. This time the push was so hard, it almost knocked me down. 

“Debashish, we don’t have all day. Move your butt, or we won’t be able to listen to the lecture.”

“Manoj…”, I began to complain.

But my voice was eaten under those of the protest. Suddenly, there was deadly silence. Not a single word. I knew what this meant. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi had arrived, along with my path to the clouds.