Although this book was only published about a month ago, it has already received a Listening Library Earphone Award for the full cast audio recording. And I am going to assume that there are all sort of awards that just haven’t been given yet, because Sepetys has received over 40 awards for her other books, like Between Shades of Gray and Salt to the Sea. Set in Madrid in 1957, this books tells the true story of Spain under the fascist dictatorship of General Francisco Franco. After the Spanish Civil War, many Spainiards were living in both poverty and fear, especially those whose family members had been outed as Republicans, aka Reds. The American tourists either turned a blind eye or simply didn’t even notice the disparity between their lavish lifestyle, full of parties and shopping sprees, and the abject poverty and subsistence living of the locals.
Daniel Matheson traveled to Spain with his parents; his father, who was a Texas oil tycoon hoping to make a deal with Franco, and his mother, who had grown up in Spain and wanted to visit her home country. Daniel, a photographer and aspiring photojournalist, hoped he might use this opportunity to get some photos that could help with a contest entry. Though his mother supported his love of photography, his father refused to pay for journalism school and insisted that he go to business school instead. If he won this contest, though, he could win enough money to attend j school without his father’s help. Little did Daniel know the opportunities he would find…
Once again, Sepetys has taken a time and place in history that oft goes neglected in US history classes and written a novel that will stick with readers far better than any simple lesson. Interspersed with vintage media reports, oral history commentary, photos, and more, this book is sure to both educate and entertain.
I couldn’t believe how shocked I was when I read Sepetys’ Between Shades of Gray. I mean, I had taken a world history class with “in depth” unit about WWII and didn’t really know much of anything about what Stalin had done — nor had I even heard of the [Soviet] Holodomor (roughly translated to “death by hunger”) that rivaled the well-known [German] Holocaust. After reading Between Shades of Gray, though, I felt like I had a much better grasp of WWII history… And then I read this book. How is it that there is yet another major piece of WWII history that has flown under the radar for so long?!?
Before reading Salt to the Sea, I had never even heard of the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff. I was stupefied to learn that OVER NINE THOUSAND people died in this tragedy. Prior to reading this book, I would have been willing to bet that the Titanic and the Lusitania were the two largest maritime tragedies of all time. Even when you combine the death tolls of those two ships, nevertheless, they only account for about a third of the losses of the Gustloff. I wish American ethnocentrism didn’t extend to history classrooms in which *world* history is being taught, but it seems pretty evident to me that the anti-Germany sentiment surrounding WWII and the lack of American passengers aboard the ship have both contributed to a lack of American attention. People from all walks of life [civilians, refugees, and soldiers] and of all ages [from babies to senior citizens] were aboard that ship. It was a tragedy of unbelievable proportions.
Thank goodness Ruta Sepetys! With her well-developed characters and gripping plots, Sepetys is providing readers with compelling stories that will also spread awareness of these previously unknown tragedies. Who knows? Maybe her books will even lead to better coverage in future history textbooks and classes. I can only hope that the multiple points of view provided by this particular story will resonate with readers and finally bring much-deserved American attention to the great number of lives that were lost in the Baltic Sea [almost exactly] 71 years ago.
To say that Josie Moraine has a very unusual life would be an understatement and a half! Though she is only in high school, she already lives on her own and works two jobs — as a clerk at a local bookstore and as a maid of sorts for the brothel where her mother works. That’s right… Josie’s mother is a prostitute. Not to mention a cold, calculating, unloving woman who only ever seems to think of herself. And, as if that isn’t bad enough, Josie’s mother also happens to be in love with an abusive gangster-type. So, when her mom disappears from the French Quarter the very same morning that a man turns up dead, Josie isn’t sure what to do or what to believe. She has never wanted anything so much as a chance to get out of the “Big Easy” and to get a good education, but her mother and her mother’s foolishness always seem to get in the way.
One of the things I enjoyed most about this story was how the entire cast of characters was so well fleshed-out. I get annoyed when authors skimp on developing the supporting characters, but Sepetys did not disappoint! My favorite was Willie — the brothel madam who knew Josie was bound for bigger and better things, regardless of the fact that many people assumed/hoped she would simply follow in her mother’s footsteps. I loved that Willie did her best to support Josie and to encourage her to want more from life instead of being upset that Josie didn’t want to join the [ahem] family business. If you like historical fiction and/or mysteries, this is a book you won’t want to miss.