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Salt to the sea

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7 audio discs (9 hr.) : digital, CD audio ; 4 3/4 in.
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Compact discs.
"As World War II draws to a close, refugees try to escape the war's final dangers, only to find themselves aboard a ship with a target on its hull"--


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New York Times Bestseller "Masterly crafted" -- The Wall Street Journal

For readers of Between Shades of Gray and All the Light We Cannot See , bestselling author Ruta Sepetys returns to WWII in this epic novel that shines a light on one of the war's most devastating--yet unknown--tragedies.

World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, many with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer to safety.

Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people--adults and children alike--aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.

Told in alternating points of view and perfect for fans of Anthony Doerr's Pulitzer Prize-winning All the Light We Cannot See , Erik Larson's Dead Wake , and Elizabeth Wein's Printz Honor Book Code Name Verity , this masterful work of historical fiction is inspired by the real-life tragedy that was the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff -- the greatest maritime disaster in history. As she did in Between Shades of Gray , Ruta Sepetys unearths a shockingly little-known casualty of a gruesome war, and proves that humanity and love can prevail, even in the darkest of hours.

Praise for Salt to the Sea
"Jorjeana Marie, Will Damron, Cassandra Morris, and Michael Crouch perform mesmerizing narration worthy of Sepetys's spectacular novel. VERDICT Libraries with even the most limited audio budgets will want to invest." - School Library Journal , starred review

"The talented narrators excel in capturing the tone of their characters.... They] work together to create a vivid and well-rounded reading experience, and] bring forth the truth of the wartime experience." - Booklist , starred review

"The four narrators (Jorjeana Marie, Will Damron, Cassandra Morris and Michael Crouch) are superbly cast...The story's plot and pacing translate beautifully to the audio medium." - Publishers Weekly , starred review

Featured on NPR's Morning Edition ♦ "Superlative...masterfully crafted... a] powerful work of historical fiction."-- The Wall Street Journal ♦ " Sepetys is] a master of YA fiction...she once again anchors a panoramic view of epic tragedy in perspectives that feel deeply textured and immediate."-- Entertainment Weekly ♦ "Riveting...powerful...haunting."-- The Washington Post ♦ "Compelling for both adult and teenage readers."-- New York Times Book Review ♦ "Intimate, extraordinary, artfully crafted...brilliant."-- Shelf Awareness ♦ "Historical fiction at its very, very best."-- The Globe and Mail ♦ " H]aunting, heartbreaking, hopeful and altogether of the best young-adult novels to appear in a very long time."-- Salt Lake Tribune

Author Notes

Ruta Sepetys is the award-winning, bestselling author of Between Shades of Gray, Out of the Easy and Salt to the Sea, for which she won the 2017 Carnegie Medal. From the Hardcover edition.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 7

Horn Book Review

Near the end of World War II, thousands of refugees fled West through Eastern Europe toward the Baltic Sea, attempting to outrun the advancing Russian army. Sepetys tells the story of three such refugees and one Nazi sailor as their stories converge on the trek toward Gotenhafen and the doomed German transport ship Wilhelm Gustloff. This richly voiced production perfectly suits the brief chapters, which alternate among the four teenage characters' points of view: Prussian art-lover Florian, Lithuanian nurse Joana, pregnant Polish girl Emilia, and Alfred, a lowly and deluded German deckhand. Careful pacing and (for the most part) even, non-histrionic tones illuminate each character's burdens and secrets. The narrators wisely do not try to imitate the characters' Eastern European accents, allowing listeners to identify easily and profoundly with the universal wartime emotions of courage, hatred, sorrow, fear, and hope encountered during the shocking tragedy of history's worst maritime disaster. mary burkey (c) Copyright 2016. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

School Library Journal Review

Gr 8 Up-In East Prussia at the end of World War II, a group of refugees are desperately making their way toward the one chance they have at survival: passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff. Braving the unforgiving elements, violent soldiers, and an uncertain future, Joana, Emilia, and Florian narrate their harrowing journey, along with unsettling chapters from Alfred, a Nazi sailor. Sepetys brings to vivid life the events and repercussions of this little-known piece of 20th-century history. © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Library Journal Review

January 1945. The war in Europe is in its end stages as German forces are beaten back by the Allied armies. To escape the Soviet advance on the eastern front, thousands of refugees flee to the Polish coast. In this desperate flight for freedom, four young people-each from very different backgrounds and each with dark secrets-connect as they vie for passage on the Willhelm Gustloff, a former pleasure cruiser used to evacuate the refugees. Packed to almost ten times its original capacity, the ship is hit by Soviet torpedoes fewer than 12 hours after leaving port. As the ship sinks into the icy waters of the Baltic Sea, what was supposed to be an avenue for escape quickly becomes another fight to survive the randomness of war. VERDICT YA author Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray; Out of the Easy) describes an almost unknown maritime disaster whose nearly 9,000 casualties dwarfed those of both the Titanic and the Lusitania. Told alternately from the perspective of each of the main characters, the novel also highlights the struggle and sacrifices that ordinary people-children-were forced to make. At once beautiful and heart-wrenching, this title will remind readers that there are far more casualties of war than are recorded in history books. Sure to have crossover appeal for adult readers.-Elisabeth Clark, West Florida P.L., Pensacola © Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publisher's Weekly Review

Set in East Prussia during the brutal winter of 1945, these stories of four very different teenagers-three refugees escaping their disparate war-torn homelands, and a Nazi sailor obsessed with Hitler-Intertwine when they all end up on the doomed ship Wilhelm Gustloff. The four narrators (Jorjeana Marie, Will Damron, Cassandra Morris, and Michael Crouch) are superbly cast, each taking on the role of a main character with a distinctive voice that perfectly matches his or her role: the young, vulnerable voice of Emilia, a sweet Polish 16-year-old who has suffered too much tragedy and emotional trauma; the warm, caring tones of Joana, a Latvian nurse, who is nurturing and perceptive; the deep, guarded voice of Florian, a mysterious Prussian hiding a secret; and most memorable of all, the high, thin, nasal voice of the Nazi sailor Alfred, dripping with smug arrogance and self-righteousness. The story's plot and pacing translate beautifully to the audio medium; the intimate interior monologues reveal character development while fast-paced, gripping action scenes of danger and narrow escapes create a sense of suspense. The result is a riveting audiobook that will have listeners on the edge of their seats while also educating them about a little-known but tragic chapter of WWII history. Ages 12-up. A Philomel hardcover. (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Shipwrecks and maritime disasters are of fathomless fascination, with ships such as the Titanic and the Lusitania household names. It's interesting that the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff during WWII, which led to the largest loss of life on a single ship in history, goes largely unremarked upon at least in America. The numbers are staggering: far over capacity, the ship was carrying approximately 10,582 passengers when it was struck by Soviet torpedoes, and more than 9,400 of those passengers perished in the ensuing wreck, a death toll that dwarfs the Titanic's assumed losses (around 1,500). Part of the neglect might be due to timing. The ship was evacuating refugees and German citizens from Gotenhafen, Poland, when it was sunk in the Baltic Sea in the winter of 1945. Astounding losses defined WWII, and this became yet another tragedy buried under the other tragedies after all, even 9,400 is dwarfed by 60 million. But it was a tragedy, and, like all tragedies, it broke the people involved down to their barest parts. Sepetys has resurrected the story through the eyes of four young characters trying to reach safety as the Russian army advances: Joana, a Lithuanian nurse; Emilia, a pregnant Polish 15-year-old; Florian, a Prussian artist carrying dangerous cargo; and Alfred, a German naval soldier stationed on the Wilhelm Gustloff. Each has been touched by war and is hunted by the past, and, determined to get on a boat in any way possible, hurtling unknowingly toward disaster. With exquisite prose, Sepetys plumbs the depths of her quartet of characters, bringing each to the breaking point and back, shaping a narrative that is as much about the intricacies of human nature as it is about a historical catastrophe. Nominated for the Morris Award for her first novel, Between Shades of Gray (2011), Sepetys returns to those roots with another harrowing, impeccably researched story of hardship and survival in Eastern Europe. When reading a book so likely to end in tears, one inclination is to avoid getting attached to any of the characters, but that's next to impossible here, so thoroughly does Sepetys mine their inner landscapes. That doesn't mean they are all likable as it breeds heroes, so, too, does calamity breed cowards and opportunists but it does make it difficult to think of them as anything other than real people. After all, the ship was very real. It does the people aboard a disservice not to reflect them the best one can. In many ways, the greatest punishment and the greatest of all tragedies is to be forgotten. This haunting gem of a novel begs to be remembered, and in turn, it tries to remember the thousands of real people its fictional characters represent. What it asks of us is that their memories and their stories not be abandoned to the sea.--Reagan, Maggie Copyright 2015 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

A GROUP OF TEENAGE REFUGEES meet on the road in the chaotic countryside of East Prussia in winter 1945. The Nazi Reich is collapsing all around them, and they, like hundreds of thousands, are fleeing the wrathful Soviet advance. They are trapped between their German conquerors and their terrifying Russian "liberators." Their story is told through the voices of Joana, a pretty Lithuanian nurse; Florian, a Prussian with a mysterious letter of passage from a high-ranking Nazi officer; and Emilia, an idealistic but damaged Polish girl in a pink knit cap. Thrown together, struggling to survive, they at first hardly trust one another enough even to exchange names, and so they often just use epithets: "the knight," "the nurse," "the Polish girl," "the wandering boy," "the shoe poet." (The last, an old cobbler, gets his name from his philosophy: "The shoes always tell the story.") Each has secrets - the galling histories that haunt anyone who has lived through war, flight and deprivation. In her debut novel, "Between Shades of Gray," Ruta Sepetys shined light on the largely forgotten plight of the Baltic peoples crushed between the great powers at the beginning of World War II. Now she does the same for these survivors trapped in the interstices of history: neither German nor Soviet, trying to escape from a no-man's land neither Axis nor Allied in a war already lost but not yet won. The pacing is swift as a thriller as this group evades the vengeful brutalities of the encroaching Red Army - and then plays a dangerous game by lying to the Wehrmacht in order to secure themselves spaces on a refugee ship before the whole region collapses. In brief chapters, the narrative point of view swarms from character to character; the book's drama comes not simply from the battlefield action - the bombings, the armies on the move - but from the constant wounding fire of lies and revelations, self-deceptions and desperate ententes. Occasionally, there's even humor in these shifts : We read the blustering love letters of a proud young Nazi named Alfred only to discover he's actually an acne-ridden deck swabber who spends his hours shirking in a supply closet. "Imagine, my darling," he writes his sweet Hannelore, "your Alfred is saving 2,000 lives." Then he's interrupted by a barked "Have you cleaned the toilets yet, Frick?" One thing that makes these distinctive characters so compelling for both adult and teenage readers is an awareness that though they may be fictional, the horrors and small acts of heroism we see played out before us could essentially be real - they are statistically real. World War II - any war - is constructed out of millions of such scenes of betrayal, sudden generosity, violence and canny alliance. There is only one larger-than-life detail: One of the characters carries the key to a real World War II mystery. But Sepetys is too invested in the essential reality of the story she tells to treat even that spy-novel circumstance as an invitation for easy heroics. Looming above the personal struggles of these young refugees is a devastating historical tragedy: The ship onto which they flee with the ugly inevitability of fate is the Wilhelm Gustloff, which was sunk by a Soviet submarine in January 1945. Of the estimated 10,500 people on board, more than 9,000 perished in the icy seas. We watch these characters start to find love for one another and protect one another even as we recognize the heartbreaking certainty that not all of them will make it off that ship alive. It would be near blasphemous to use suffering on this scale as the backdrop to provide the beats of suspense and near escape if it weren't for Sepetys's clear commitment to preserving the memory of the forgotten, the drowned. Though there are a few clumsy gestures at moments of great crisis - as a mother dies in childbirth, a startled stork takes off from the roof - the most moving and even uncomfortable images are clearly taken from Sepetys's extensive sources: A mother desperate to get her baby off the sinking ship hurls the infant down to a sailor and misses; the corpses of children in life jackets float upside down because of the disproportional size of their heads. Not merely harrowing, such images remind us that even "the good war" was a messy calamity. And once again, Ruta Sepetys acts as champion of the interstitial people so often ignored - whole populations lost in the cracks of history. M.T. ANDERSON is the author, most recently, of "Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad."

Kirkus Review

January 1945: as Russians advance through East Prussia, four teens' lives converge in hopes of escape. Returning to the successful formula of her highly lauded debut, Between Shades of Gray (2011), Sepetys combines research (described in extensive backmatter) with well-crafted fiction to bring to life another little-known story: the sinking (from Soviet torpedoes) of the German ship Wilhelm Gustloff. Told in four alternating voicesLithuanian nurse Joana, Polish Emilia, Prussian forger Florian, and German soldier Alfredwith often contemporary cadences, this stints on neither history nor fiction. The three sympathetic refugees and their motley companions (especially an orphaned boy and an elderly shoemaker) make it clear that while the Gustloff was a German ship full of German civilians and soldiers during World War II, its sinking was still a tragedy. Only Alfred, stationed on the Gustloff, lacks sympathy; almost a caricature, he is self-delusional, unlikable, a Hitler worshiper. As a vehicle for exposition, however, and a reminder of Germany's role in the war, he serves an invaluable purpose that almost makes up for the mustache-twirling quality of his petty villainy. The inevitability of the ending (including the loss of several characters) doesn't change its poignancy, and the short chapters and slowly revealed back stories for each character guarantee the pages keep turning. Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful. (author's note, research and sources, maps) (Historical fiction. 12-16) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.



joana Guilt is a hunter.  My conscience mocked me, picking fights like a petulant child. It's all your fault, the voice whispered. I quickened my pace and caught up with our small group. The Germans would march us off the field road if they found us. Roads were reserved for the military. Evacuation orders hadn't been issued and anyone fleeing East Prussia was branded a deserter. But what did that matter? I became a deserter four years ago, when I fled from Lithuania. Lithuania. I had left in 1941. What was happening at home? Were the dreadful things whispered in the streets true? We approached a mound on the side of the road. The small boy in front of me whimpered and pointed. He had joined us two days prior, just wandered out of the forest alone and quietly began following us. "Hello, little one. How old are you?" I had asked. "Six," he replied. "Who are you traveling with?" He paused and dropped his head. "My Omi." I turned toward the woods to see if his grandmother had emerged. "Where is your Omi now?" I asked. The wandering boy looked up at me, his pale eyes wide. "She didn't wake up." So the little boy traveled with us, often drifting just slightly ahead or behind. And now he stood, pointing to a flap of dark wool beneath a meringue of snow. I waved the group onward and when everyone advanced I ran to the snow-covered heap. The wind lifted a layer of icy flakes revealing the dead blue face of a woman, probably in her twenties. Her mouth and eyes were hinged open, fixed in fear. I dug through her iced pockets, but they had already been picked. In the lining of her jacket I found her identification papers. I stuffed them in my coat to pass on to the Red Cross and dragged her body off the road and into the field. She was dead, frozen solid, but the thought of tanks rolling over her was more than I could bear. I ran back to the road and our group. The wandering boy stood in the center of the path, snow falling all around him. "She didn't wake up either?" he asked quietly. I shook my head and took his mittened hand in mine. And then we both heard it in the distance. Bang.     florian Fate is a hunter. Engines buzzed in a swarm above. Der Schwarze Tod , "the Black Death," they called them. I hid beneath the trees. The planes weren't visible, but I felt them. Close. Trapped by darkness both ahead and behind, I weighed my options. An explosion detonated and death crept closer, curling around me in fingers of smoke. I ran. My legs churned, sluggish, disconnected from my racing mind. I willed them to move, but my conscience noosed around my ankles and pulled down hard. "You are a talented young man, Florian." That's what Mother had said. "You are Prussian. Make your own decisions, son," said my father. Would he have approved of my decisions, of the secrets I now carried across my back? Amidst this war between Hitler and Stalin, would Mother still consider me talented, or criminal? The Soviets would kill me. But how would they torture me first? The Nazis would kill me, but only if they uncovered the plan. How long would it remain a secret? The questions propelled me forward, whipping through the cold forest, dodging branches. I clutched my side with one hand, my pistol with the other. The pain surged with each breath and step, releasing warm blood out of the angry wound. The sound of the engines faded. I had been on the run for days and my mind felt as weak as my legs. The hunter preyed on the fatigued and weary. I had to rest. The pain slowed me to a jog and finally a walk. Through the dense trees in the forest I spied branches hiding an old potato cellar. I jumped in. Bang.     emilia Shame is a hunter. I would rest a moment. I had a moment, didn't I? I slid across the cold, hard earth toward the back of the cave. The ground quivered. Soldiers were close. I had to move but felt so tired. It was a good idea to put branches over the mouth of the forest cellar. Wasn't it? No one would trek this far off the road. Would they? I pulled the pink woolen cap down over my ears and tugged my coat closed near my throat. Despite my bundled layers, January's teeth bit sharp. My fingers had lost all feeling. Pieces of my hair, frozen crisp to my collar, tore as I turned my head. So I thought of August. My eyes dropped closed. And then they opened. A Russian soldier was there. He leaned over me with a light, poking my shoulder with his pistol. I jumped, frantically pushing myself back. "Fräulein." He grinned, pleased that I was alive. " Komme , Fräulein. How old are you?" "Fifteen," I whispered. "Please, I'm not German. Nicht Deutsche ." He didn't listen, didn't understand, or didn't care. He pointed his gun at me and yanked at my ankle. "Shh, Fräulein." He lodged the gun under the bone of my chin. I pleaded. I put my hands across my stomach and begged. He moved forward. No. This would not happen. I turned my head. "Shoot me, soldier. Please." Bang.     alfred Fear is a hunter. But brave warriors, we brush away fear with a flick of the wrist. We laugh in the face of fear, kick it like a stone across the street. Yes, Hannelore, I compose these letters in my mind first, as I cannot abandon my men as often as I think of you. You would be proud of your watchful companion, sailor Alfred Frick. Today I saved a young woman from falling into the sea. It was nothing really, but she was so grateful she clung to me, not wanting to let go. "Thank you, sailor." Her warm whisper lingered in my ear. She was quite pretty and smelled like fresh eggs, but there have been many grateful and pretty girls. Oh, do not be concerned. You and your red sweater are foremost in my thoughts. How fondly, how incessantly, I think of my Hannelore and red-sweater days. I'm relieved you are not here to see this. Your sugared heart could not bear the treacherous circumstances here in the port of Gotenhafen. At this very moment, I am guarding dangerous explosives. I am serving Germany well. Only seventeen, yet carrying more valor than those twice my years. There is talk of an honor ceremony but I'm too busy fighting for the Führer to accept honors. Honors are for the dead, I've told them. We must fight while we are alive! Yes, Hannelore, I shall prove to all of Germany. There is indeed a hero inside of me. Bang. I abandoned my mental letter and crouched in the supply closet, hoping no one would find me. I did not want to go outside.      florian I stood in the forest cellar, my gun fixed on the dead Russian. The back of his head had departed from his skull. I rolled him off the woman. She wasn't a woman. She was a girl in a pink woolen cap. And she had fainted. I scavenged through the Russian's frozen pockets and took cigarettes, a flask, a large sausage wrapped in paper, his gun, and ammunition. He wore two watches on each wrist, trophies collected from his victims. I didn't touch them. Crouching near the corner of the cellar, I scanned the cold chamber for signs of food but saw none. I put the ammunition in my pack, careful not to disturb the small box wrapped in a cloth. The box. How could something so small hold such power? Wars had been waged over less. Was I really willing to die for it? I gnawed at the dried sausage, savoring the saliva it produced. The ground vibrated slightly. This Russian wasn't alone. There would be more. I had to move. I turned the top on the soldier's flask and raised it to my nose. Vodka. I opened my coat, then my shirt, and poured the alcohol down my side. The intensity of the pain produced a flash in front of my eyes. My ruptured flesh fought back, twisting and pulsing. I took a breath, bit back a yell, and tortured the gash with the remainder of the alcohol. The girl stirred in the dirt. Her head snapped away from the dead Russian. Her eyes scanned the gun at my feet and the flask in my hand. She sat up, blinking. Her pink hat slid from her head and fell silently into the dirt. The side of her coat was streaked with blood. She reached into her pocket. I threw down the flask and grabbed the gun. She opened her mouth and spoke. Polish.     emilia The Russian soldier stared at me, mouth open, eyes empty. Dead. What had happened? Crouching in the corner was a young man dressed in civilian clothes. His coat and shirt were unfastened, his skin bloodied and bruised to a deep purple. He held a gun. Was he going to shoot me? No, he had killed the Russian. He had saved me. "Are you okay?" I asked, barely recognizing my own voice. His face twisted at the sound of my words. He was German. I was Polish. He would want nothing to do with me. Adolf Hitler had declared that Polish people were subhuman. We were to be destroyed so the Germans could have the land they needed for their empire. Hitler said Germans were superior and would not live among Poles. We were not Germanizable. But our soil was. I pulled a potato from my pocket and held it out to him. "Thank you." The dirt pulsed slightly. How much time had passed? "We have to go," I told him. I tried to use my best German. In my head the sentences were intact, but I wasn't sure they came out that way. Sometimes when I spoke German people laughed at me and then I knew my words were wrong. I lowered my arm and saw my sleeve, splattered with Russian blood. Would this ever end? Tears stirred inside of me. I did not want to cry. The German stared at me, a combination of fatigue and frustration. But I understood. His eyes on the potato said, Emilia, I'm hungry. The dried blood on his shirt said, Emilia, I'm injured. But the way he clutched his pack told me the most. Emilia, don't touch this.     joana We trudged farther down the narrow road. Fifteen refugees. The sun had finally surrendered and the temperature followed. A blind girl ahead of me, Ingrid, held a rope tethered to a horse-drawn cart. I had my sight, but we shared a handicap: we both walked into a dark corridor of combat, with no view of what lay ahead. Perhaps her lost vision was a gift. The blind girl could hear and smell things that the rest of us couldn't. Did she hear the last gasp of the old man as he slipped under the wheels of a cart several kilometers back? Did she taste coins in her mouth when she walked over the fresh blood in the snow? "Heartbreaking. They killed her," said a voice behind me. It was the old shoemaker. I stopped and allowed him to catch up. "The frozen woman back there," he continued. "Her shoes killed her. I keep telling them, but they don't listen. Poorly made shoes will torture your feet, inhibit your progress. Then you will stop." He squeezed my arm. His soft red face peered out from beneath his hat. "And then you will die," he whispered. The old man spoke of nothing but shoes. He spoke of them with such love and emotion that a woman in our group had crowned him "the shoe poet." The woman disappeared a day later but the nickname survived. "The shoes always tell the story," said the shoe poet. "Not always," I countered. "Yes, always. Your boots, they are expensive, well made. That tells me that you come from a wealthy family. But the style is one made for an older woman. That tells me they probably belonged to your mother. A mother sacrificed her boots for her daughter. That tells me you are loved, my dear. And your mother is not here, so that tells me that you are sad, my dear. The shoes tell the story." I paused in the center of the frozen road and watched the stubby old cobbler shuffle ahead of me. The shoe poet was right. Mother had sacrificed for me. When we fled from Lithuania she rushed me to Insterburg and, through a friend, arranged for me to work in the hospital. That was four years ago. Where was Mother now? I thought of the countless refugees trekking toward freedom. How many millions of people had lost their home and family during the war? I had agreed with Mother to look to the future, but secretly I dreamed of returning to the past. Had anyone heard from my father or brother? The blind girl put her face to the sky and raised her arm in signal. And then I heard them. Planes.     florian We had barely crawled out of the potato cellar when the Polish girl began to cry. She knew I was going to leave her. I had no choice. She would slow me down. Hitler aimed to destroy all Poles. They were Slavic, branded inferior. My father said the Nazis had killed millions of Poles. Polish intellectuals were savagely executed in public. Hitler set up extermination camps in German-occupied Poland, filtering the blood of innocent Jews into the Polish soil. Hitler was a coward. That had been one thing Father and I agreed upon. " Proszę . . . bitte, " she begged, alternating between Polish and broken German. I couldn't stand to look at her, at the streaks of dead Russian splattered down her sleeve. I started to walk away, her sobs flapping behind me. "Wait. Please," she called out. The sound of her crying was painfully familiar. It had the exact tone of my younger sister, Anni, and the sobs I heard through the hallway the day Mother took her last breath. Anni. Where was she? Was she too in some dark forest hole with a gun to her head? A pain ripped through my side, forcing me to stop. The girl's feet quickly approached. I resumed walking. "Thank you," she chirped from behind. The sun disappeared and the cold tightened its fist. My calculations told me that I needed to walk another two kilometers west before stopping for the night. There was a better chance of finding shelter along a field road, but also a better chance of running into troops. It was wiser to continue along the edge of the forest. The girl heard them before I did. She grabbed my arm. The buzzing of aircraft engines surged fast and close from behind. The Russians were targeting German ground troops nearby. Were they in front of us or beside us? The bombs began falling. With each explosion, every bone in my body vibrated and hammered, clanging violently against the bell tower that was my flesh. The sound of anti-aircraft fire rang through the sky, answering the initial blasts. The girl tried to pull me onward. I shoved her away. "Run!" She shook her head, pointed forward, and awkwardly tried to pull me through the snow. I wanted to run, forget about her, leave her in the forest. But then I saw the droplets of blood in the snow coming from beneath her bulky coat. And I could not. Excerpted from Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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