Monday, February 8, 2016

Books join us together as a global reading community

We the survivors are not the true witnesses.
The true witnesses, those in possession of the unspeakable truth,
are the drowned, the dead, the disappeared.
- Primo Levi

This weekend I read Salt To The Sea by Ruta Sepetys. It's an extraordinary work of historical fiction for young adults. Ruta Sepety takes an extremely tragic and overlooked moment in history and created a beautiful story around it. 

From the jacket cover:
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.

Inspired by the single greatest tragedy in maritime history, bestselling and award-winning author Ruta Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray) lifts the veil on a shockingly little-known casualty of World War II. An illuminating and life-affirming tale of heart and hope.

Salt To The Sea is a book that allows readers a glimpse into how ordinary people can get caught in war. And, how each can react with cruelty or kindness, hatred or apathy, selfishness or altruism.

Get this book for the young adult readers you know. Get this book for the history lovers you know. Get this book... because books join us together.

Two of my favorite quotes from Salt To The Sea:
What had human beings become? Did war make us evil or just activate an evil already lurking within us?

His smugness was annoying. This was the type of man who looked at a picture on the wall and instead of admiring the photo, looked at his own reflection in the glass.

And, having visited the Catherine Palace (the summer palace) in Saint Petersburg (formerly Leningrad) last summer, I loved this bit about the Amber Room:
Originally created in Prussia and gifted to Peter the Great, the Amber Room was a glittering chamber of amber, jewels, gold, and mirrors. In 1941, the Nazi's stole it from the Catherine Palace in Pushkin, near Leningrad. Packed into twenty-seven crates, the Amber Room was the culmination of Hitler's artistic dreams. He carefully strategized its safekeeping and after much deliberation the twenty-seven crates were secretly shipped to the castle museum in Königsberg.

When I toured the Catherine Palace, I saw the recreated Amber Room. The whereabouts of the twenty-seven crates remains a mystery. Beginning its recreation in 1979 and installed in 2003, the current Amber Room in the Catherine Palace is a collaboration between Russia and Germany.

The Wilhelm Gustloff was a KdF ship. KdF - Kraft durch Freude "Strength Through Joy"
KdF was a national German organization that was supposed to make leisure activities available to the masses, regardless of social class. Hitler said KdF brought opportunity for everyone, all were equal. But how could all be equal if some were favored?
Ships Capacity: 1,463. Passengers on board: 10,573. Lifeboats: 22. But then I remembered. Ten of the lifeboats were missing.
The sinking of the Gustloff is the largest maritime disaster, yet the world still knows nothing of it. I often wonder, will that ever change or will it remain just another secret swallowed by war?

Be sure to read the entire Author's Note. Here's just a bit...
"There are many important stories of World War II. Much has been documented about combat, politics, guilt, and responsibility. Suffering emerged the victor, touching all sides, sparing no nation involved. As I wrote this novel, I was haunted by thoughts of the helpless children and teenagers - innocent victims of boarder shifts, ethnic cleansing, and vengeful regimes. Hundreds of thousands of children were orphaned during World War II. Abandoned or separated from their families, they were forced to battle the beast of war on their own, left with an inheritance of heartache and responsibility for events they had no role in causing. Many experienced unspeakable atrocities, some miraculous acts of kindness by complete strangers.
Every nation has hidden history, countless stories preserved only by those who experience them. Stories of war are often read and discussed worldwide by readers whose nations stood on opposite sides during battle. History divided us, but through reading we can be united in story, study, and remembrance. Books join us together as a global reading community, but more important, a global human community striving to learn from the past."

No comments:

Post a Comment