Hello dear readers! This Topical Tuesday is looking into how age is represented and how it affects the novel/characters in Ruta Sepetys’ Salt to the Sea.
It was already stated by Ruta Sepetys’ that she chose a young-adult narrative to portray the world through the young and more innocent lives.. If we look through Joana, a young Lithuanian nurse – to me you can see her youth through her fight. She perseveres in trying to save the wounded, she isn’t as tired as someone double her age would be. She still believes in the fight and in the saving of others. She is clever and she is kind. She hasn’t been ruined by the cruel times of the war when we meet her. She is pragmatic as well as just a girl trying to learn the ways of the world she is growing into.
“We just need to cross the ice. We’re close. The crossing point is only a short walk down the hill.”
Emilia is the innocent of the four; bright eyes, pink hat, gentle touch and an imagination to go with it all. To me she was also the one who saw the most. She saw the relationship between Florian and Joana, and she tried to see the good in all. Because of her past and because as readers we know she is good at masking, we also see how she paints pretty pictures of home. She is constantly reminding us of food, of homely furnishing and of her family. Her voice comes from the vulnerable (do not get me wrong she is made of strong stuff) but she is most like a child out of all of them.
‘I wish Mama could meet August. She would seat him at our dining table and serve him thick cuts of bread with sticky marmalade. The belly of the teapot would be warm, full of raspberry tea. Red poppies in the centre of the table would give a wave from their glass jar.”
Alfred to me is the most tragic of all. He is the deluded German who believes that Nazis and Hitler are leading Germany into the right direction. He was deluded into thinking he was doing the right thing by believing in the actions of the man who ruined so many lives. He represented the many who blindly followed and lost their lives to a man who brought a country to its knees. And many others besides. He never questions. He reminds me of a younger brother, blindly following his elder – wanting to receive praise. He wants to be seen as obeying, and serving in the only way. He never sees the light of it all.
‘I am saving Germany well. Only seventeen, yet carrying more valor than those twice my years. [..] We must fight while we are alive!’
Florian was my favourite character in this book. His arc was so beautiful and I could not get enough of him through the pages. I found his voice very mature for his age but gathering what he had been through and his survival instincts it’s not surprising. Being around the same age as Joana he is the most mature in the four POVs we get. He has seen too much too young and sees the war as what it is. Dangerous, political and unjust. He is the representation of the complex side of human nature as well as the realistic. Trying to save yourself first before others, you leave the weak behind to push on the strong. Emilia is the one who saves him, seeing the good him, making believe in himself and doing the right thing by the group and him.
‘Fate is a hunter.’
To have such a tragedy reflected in the youth is tragic and eye-opening. In the Western world we do not imagine such things to be inflicted on the young. We shelter them. We do not imagine some of the youngest adults in society being made to experience such hardships but they did. And they do so in ways which surprise us. Some are led blindly but with full faith. Some fall but stay innocent, clawing onto their past. Some survive through helping others and keeping their eyes on the future. And some.. some survive by realising that the world is so much bigger than just one person surviving it on their own. Because it’s all very well surviving. But what for?
My favourite line in the whole novel wasn’t actually in the fiction. It explains how incredibly important historical fiction is. It was in Sepetys’ acknowledgements which I will close this Topical Tuesday with:
“When the survivors are gone we must not let the truth disappear with them. Please give them a voice. “