Q&A with Salt to the Sea Author Ruta Sepetys + A Giveaway!

Here’s something you might not know about me from reading my blog: I am a HUGE history nerd. As in I’ll be graduating with a degree in it in April huge. I don’t talk about it much here because it is one of those things that I’m scared you all wouldn’t find interesting, even if I find it endlessly fascinating. That said, there is one way I feel I’m allowed to squeeze my history nerd in here- historical fiction, yo!

Around the time I decided I wanted to feature more historical fiction on my blog the Barnes and Noble I work out received previews for New York Times Bestselling Author Ruta Sepetys’ upcoming, novel Salt to the Sea. I had already marked it to-read on Goodreads, ad the preview only made me want to read it even more. But then from the little bio on the back of the booklet I found out Sepetys was a Michigan native just like me, so obviously this had to be the first book I featured. It was basically fate.

salt to the sea interview giveaway

“Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four secrets.

Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies…and war.

As thousands of desperate refugees flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom.

Yet not all promises can be kept.

Synopsis from Goodreads.

Another thing you should know about me: I’m a sucker for a good World War II book. And I have a feeling this is going to turn out to be a really, really good World War II book. I’m not terribly far in just yet, but I am loving it so far! The narrative is told from alternating perspectives of each of the main characters, so you really get to see inside each of their minds and understanding how they are responding to and interpreting their circumstances. This is particularly important for this book because the characters have such a diverse range of backgrounds, including a few whose backgrounds land them on opposite sides of the war. These types of dynamics are exactly what I love so much about World War II fiction, and what I think many of you will love about it as well.

The story of the Wilhelm Gustloff is both one of the most horrific sea tragedies in recorded history and one of the most forgotten. Everyone knows the story of the Titanic, everyone knows the awful fate of its passengers, but few remember the lives and stories poor refugees aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff. That is what makes this book so important, so beautiful, and so heartbreaking to read. You know from the very beginning how it is going to end, but the characters deserve to tell their stories. The real victims of the tragedy deserve to be remembered.

Salt to the Sea also has a gorgeous cover. The copy in my picture does not have the dust jacket because I borrowed it from work, but this is what the cover looks like!


In addition to getting my hands on a copy a few days early, I also had the great pleasure of being able to ask Ruta Sepetys a few questions about Salt to the Sea which she kindly took the time to answer for me to share with you all!

Q&A With Salt to the Sea Author Ruta Sepetys!

I know that your first novel (Shades of Gray) was inspired by your own father’s escape from Lithuania. What inspired you to return to the story of refugees of WWII, and was there anything in particular that drew you specifically to the story of the Wilhelm Gustloff?
RS: As with Between Shades of Gray, my connection with Salt to the Sea is family. In many ways, the idea of Joana’s flight to safety was inspired by my father’s family. Connecting the Gustloff to the escape was inspired by my father’s cousin. Her family had tickets to board the Gustloff, believing it was their opportunity to escape, but fate kept them from boarding and saved their lives. My father’s cousin is the one who urged me to write about the Wilhelm Gustloff.

“Salt to the Sea” is told from alternating perspectives. Was there a character you enjoyed writing the most, or that you most related to while writing?
RS: I spent so much time with each of these characters that choosing one favorite is very difficult; I like them all for different reasons. I have been with Joana longer as she is Lina’s cousin in Between Shades of Gray. That familiarity made her a comfort to write. The challenge of forming a character like Alfred, whose complexity is so unique and different than my view of the world, made him interesting to research and craft. Understanding the mysterious (and often painful) backstories of Florian and Emilia made them come alive to me. While there are four main characters narrating this story, it is also a book populated by secondary characters. I love the Shoe Poet and the Wandering Boy dearly. It was in writing and discovering their individual stories, and those like them, that I found myself deeply connected to the people who boarded the Gustloff. I hope readers will as well.

Conversely, were there any characters that you really struggled to write for any reason?

RS: Alfred was the most challenging to write. He is responsible for relaying facts about the ship and the timeline, but that all had to be done with backstory and voice in mind.

Lastly, you often mention that people often struggle to pronounce your name. I also have a last name that for some reason makes other people panic when they try to say it, and it has led to some hilarious stories! Do you have any funny moments or experiences you could share that have arisen because of your name?

RS: I’ve found that sometimes people avoid me all together just because they don’t recognize the origin of my name or can’t pronounce it. I once applied for a job and was told by a friend who worked at the company. “They received your resume but I found it in the rejection pile with a Post-It note that said, “What is a Ruta Sepetys? Pass”
(As someone who always thought my unique last name would benefit me because I would be easier to remember than all the Smiths, this is very disheartening. Yikes!)
I am so excited about this book and about being able to share a bit of my passion for history with you all here on the blog finally. In honor of all of that excitement and of the book officially releasing in bookstores today, I have decided to giveaway a copy of Salt to the Sea to one lucky reader! The giveaway is open internationally and will run through February 28. Enter to win below! I do try to include as many entry options as possible because I know not everyone uses Twitter or Facebook.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Are you as excited about this book as I am? And as an aside, do I have any history nerds out there who would be interested in me writing about fun history things from time to time? Lemme know!