West Vancouver Secondary Students filled the Kay Meek Theatre today to hear Booktopia 2016 author Ruta Sepetys tell the story behind her newest book Salt to the Sea.
In Salt to the Sea, three teens are fleeing the Russian advance in World War II. They are adrift from their family and their countries as they head towards the Baltic Sea in hopes of evacuating by boat as part of Operation Hannibal. Their heartrending journey reminds us of all that is lost in war but also the hope that somehow endures. “Just when you think the war has taken everything you loved, you meet someone and realize that somehow you still have more to give.” Alternately gut wrenching and uplifting, this story will stick with you long after you read it.
Sepetys’ goal in writing is to illuminate hidden history. The hidden history exposed in Salt to the Sea is the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff and the loss of 9343 lives to the Baltic Sea at the end of World War II. Sepetys’ books shine a light on the stories of the victims of vengeful regimes, especially the innocent children. She does meticulous research and listens to survivor stories and then skillfully weaves them into her storyline and characters. She sees telling these stories as a way to build empathy with the victims and let them know that the world has not forgotten their story. Sepetys says she chose the young adult genre as she feels students are the best ones to illuminate these stories.
Both Salt to the Sea and her first book, Between Shades of Grey, are very personal for Sepetys. They are stories of Lithuanian refugees. They are the stories of her family.
This is Sepetys third bestselling book so you might be surprised to find out that she wasn’t trained as a writer. In fact, she revealed that a bad experience she had in grade three stole her courage as a writer and that it was 30 years before she got it back. Sepetys began her career in the finance sector of the movie business. Increasingly though she was drawn into the creative side of the industry and ultimately spent many years helping musicians tell their story through music. It was one of those musicians who prompted her to tell her own story, and her Lithuanian relatives who encouraged her to write the story that became Salt to the Sea.
Sepetys advice to the young writers in the audience: “Turn yourself inside out and expose your thoughts and feelings to others. Learn how to face failure, criticism and rejection, and how to turn it into motivation. Be vulnerable. Let the wind blow through the hollow places. Find and preserve your own story.”
Booktopia is a program of the West Vancouver Memorial Library supported by the West Vancouver Memorial Library Foundation and local sponsors.