A Glimpse Back in Time Introduction and (#1)

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Today I am SUPER excited to introduce a new feature that I came up with! I have searched the internet and haven't found anything like this so if I'm accidentally stealing yours or someone else's idea, let me know and I'll knock it off and just do yours instead.

I was at work and thinking about Salt to the Sea (something I frequently do) and how interesting I think the history that the book is based on is. And that got me to thinking about other books that I think are based on really interesting history.

So that's how this feature was born. And that was the easy part. I could not for the life of me think of a name. So I reached out on twitter for help naming something and I got this name from @uptilmidnight and now here we are!

So basically the point of this feature is to pick a novel with a historical basis that you find totally interesting and talk about the history of it!

So, without further ado, let the fun begin!

I'm obviously going to feature the book Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys first because I can't stop thinking about it or talking about it!

Publisher: Philomel Books
Publication Date: February 2nd, 2016
Pages: 391

So, if you didn't know, this book is about the worst maritime disaster in history, worse than the Titanic and Lusitania combined.

Originally, the Wilhelm Gustloff was meant to be named after Adolf Hitler, but ended up being named after Wilhelm Gustloff, the leader of the Swiss Nazi party, after his assassination. Hitler wound up sitting next to Gustloff's mourning wife at his funeral and used the opportunity to change the name and create a Nazi martyr. He was actually assassinated by a Jew.

The ship was built to be a pleasure cruiser, but was repurposed to carry refugees across the Baltic Sea from western Prussia to Kiel in mainland Germany. They were trying to escape from the approaching Russian army.

The maximum capacity of the ship was meant to be 1,880 passengers, but on January 30, 1945, it was carrying over 10,000 passengers, most of them being refugee children and youth.

Within an hour of setting off from Gydnia, it was being tracked by a Soviet submarine. The submarine tracked the ship for about two hours before launching three torpedoes at it. They meant to launch all four that they had, but one of them was a dud.

All three of the torpedoes hit the ship. The second of the torpedoes hit the area of the ship's drained swimming pool, which was being used to house 373 members of the female Naval Auxiliary, only three of them survived. The third was a direct hit to the engine room.

It's estimated that about 9,400 of 10,600 people died. Some from the torpedo hits, some from drowning, some being trampled in stairways. The temperature that night was 0 - 14 degrees F. A lot of people also died of exposure in the water. Children who were wearing life jackets that were too big for them drowned because they wouldn't stay upright in the water.

Lifeboats had been frozen to the deck and very few of them were able to be lowered.

Despite this being the worst shipwreck in history, it is not widely known about. One main reason for that is that no one at the time was feeling particularly sympathetic toward Germany due to their involvement in the war and the ship being named after a leader of a Nazi party didn't help the matter.

The operator of the Russian submarine that sunk the Wilhelm Gustloff was Alexander Marinesko, who might be the most lethal submarine commander in history. With the death toll of the Wilhelm Gustloff being over 9,000 and then 11 days later he sunk another German ship, killing 3,000. He was deemed as not fit to be a hero because of his drinking problem.

There were also rumors that the Amber Room was packed away onto the Wilhelm Gustloff. The Amber Room was said to be the Eighth Wonder of the World before it disappeared at the end of WWII. It was a large room completely lined with Amber panels and is believed to be worth 150 million pounds in today's money.

This website features the stories of a victim and several survivors.

There's so much interesting information out there about this historic disaster, but it is so little known. After finishing this book, I spent hours reading stories and facts on the internet. Even now, writing this post, I've spent far longer than necessary reading things about this tragedy.


This giveaway will end in two weeks and is for one hardcover copy of Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys! Open international as long as Book Depository ships to you!

So what do you think about this book? This disaster? This feature?


  1. I think this is a great idea for a feature! It's definitely made me more interested in reading the book; I had no idea that it centred around this event, I just knew when it was set and for that reason I'd kind of avoided it because I've read so much set at this time and I feel sometimes it can be a bit repetitive. I'd definitely be willing to read it now though :) thank you for posting about it!

    1. Yay! I'm glad that you like the feature and I'm super glad that I've convinced you to read this one! It's so amazing! And definitely different from any other WWII era book I've read so far! It is SUCH an awesome book, I hope that you really do read it soon! I would LOVE to hear your thoughts on it!!

  2. I like your new feature and the name is perfect. I don't read much historical, but I'm interested for future posts because I love the idea. I'd never heard about this story, it really is heartbreaking to read and surprising it isn't a well-known story. I especially like that the author has written about it and will introduce readers to an event they know nothing about.

    1. Thank you so much! I'm so glad that people have seemed to think this feature is neat! The name was definitely the hardest part!

      If a person was interested in attempting a post like this, I never really thought a book had to be strictly historical to be used for this. For example, I don't think that And I Darken is historical at all really, I think it's mostly like fantasy? But I've heard it was inspired by Vlad the Impaler who was the inspiration for Dracula or something along those lines! I think that something like that would work for this feature!

      When I came up with this idea at work I started on a list of ideas right away! And I came away with seventeen post ideas! I'm so excited to do more of these posts in the future and I hope they're all super interesting and enlightening!

    2. The only rec I can offer is The Book Thief, but you've already read that. Hopefully others have more suggestions for you!

  3. Wow, this is so fascinating and I really do want to read this book. I find anything about WWII to be really interesting and it's crazy that this story isn't as well known. I mean, I get WHY, but still, many innocent people died. Worse than the Titanic even! I think this is a great feature. I really want to read more historical fiction.

    Other WWII-era books I love: The Book Thief, Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire, Number the Stars, and Tamar by Mal Peet which I'm not sure I've heard much about in the blog world. I highly recommend!


    p.s. I'm hosting a book giveaway on the blog if you're interested! Thanks for yours; I entered.

    1. Ooh, I loved The Book Thief and Code Name Verity! I have Rose Under Fire to read, but I haven't heard of the rest of them! I will have to check them out, thanks for the recommendations!! And thanks for entering my giveaway, I've been staring at the entries number all day waiting for it to grow. :)

      You definitely should read this book! It is SO sad, but it is so amazing! And definitely it is fascinating! It's so sad that it's so little known, but I'm so glad that this book was written!!

      Thanks so much for checking out my feature. :)

  4. I seriously knew nothing about the shipwreck other than the fact that it was bad and worse than the Titanic. But seeing the numbers... Jeez. This is why I'm terrified of cruise ships. For some reason, I'm super fascinated with reading about tragic events in historical fiction like Wolf by Wolf, maybe because I'm so grateful for my safe and happy life. I'm definitely more interested in this book even more now that I know the facts. Great post! Thanks!

    1. It makes me so happy when people say that something I posted makes them more interested in this book. It is SO amazing! I hope that you end up picking this book up! It is so sad, but so important that we know about, I feel! I am also super fascinated with tragic events in history so this was a perfect book for me! I am 100% with you on being terrified of cruise ships also! Wolf by Wolf was definitely a great book too!

      Thanks so much for checking out my feature! I hope that you can pick this book up soon and love it!!

  5. All the light we cannot see, Tiffany Girl (Deeanne Gist), The Nightingale

    1. Oooh! I've only heard of one of those books so I will definitely have to check them out! Thanks so much for the recommendations and checking out the feature!! :)

  6. Sounds an interesting read, the title seems not historical but the setting is! I love reading about Hitler and Nazis. I haven't read history genre before but I preordered Ivory and Bone which is a prehistoric fantasy with allusions to Pride and Prejudice, you may interested in! Thank you for featuring this book.

    1. The title makes sense when you read the book! :) I love WWII historical so much too! I am definitely looking forward to Ivory and Bone! That one sounds so interesting! Thanks for visiting! :)


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