The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys: Book Review

The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys Book Cover

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The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys Book Cover
Title: The Fountains of Silence

Synopsis from GoodReads:

Madrid, 1957. Under the fascist dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, Spain is hiding a dark secret. Meanwhile, tourists and foreign businessmen flood into Spain under the welcoming promise of sunshine and wine. Among them is eighteen-year-old Daniel Matheson, the son of an oil tycoon, who arrives in Madrid with his parents hoping to connect with the country of his mother’s birth through the lens of his camera. Photography–and fate–introduce him to Ana, whose family’s interweaving obstacles reveal the lingering grasp of the Spanish Civil War–as well as chilling definitions of fortune and fear. Daniel’s photographs leave him with uncomfortable questions amidst shadows of danger. He is backed into a corner of difficult decisions to protect those he loves. Lives and hearts collide, revealing an incredibly dark side to the sunny Spanish city.

Master storyteller Ruta Sepetys once again shines light into one of history’s darkest corners in this epic, heart-wrenching novel about identity, unforgettable love, repercussions of war, and the hidden violence of silence–inspired by the true postwar struggles of Spain.

My Review:

I went to see author Ruta Sepetys speak at the Texas Book Festival in 2019 because I loved her book Between Shades of Gray so much. Of course she primarily spoke about her newest book, The Fountains of Silence, and what she had to say intrigued me.

My husband lived as a very small child in Spain for a couple of years with his family. His parents speak fondly of their time there and how safe they felt even though (and maybe because) Franco was still in power. He died shortly after they left. I sensed that there was an element of American privilege in their experiences. I’m not denying the validity of their perception, but as expatriates, I thought their reality was probably very different from that of native Spaniards.

My husband and I visited Spain ourselves in 2010 and loved every minute of our visit. I’m a huge guidebook nerd, so I started learning a bit more about the history of Franco’s rule while I was researching our visit. I learned enough to know that it was a pretty dark time, but I didn’t actively pursue any further knowledge.

Ms. Sepetys intrigued me when she began speaking of exactly how hard life was for most Spaniards during Franco’s reign. His followers fared well, but he punished families who resisted him in the Spanish Civil War for generations. Most horrifying of all, doctors told mothers that their babies died shortly after birth when in reality, loyal families or foreigners had adopted them. Franco’s regime wanted to ensure that the babies grew up with “good,” i.e. loyal, parents. Everyone was so afraid of Franco’s Guardia Civil that they rarely expressed concern openly and only began speaking of the abductions years after Franco’s death.

The Fountains of Silence does a wonderful job of presenting the dichotomy of the face that Spain presented to the world and the underlying darkness of the 1950s. Daniel is a wealthy Texas oil baron’s son staying in the American hotel that literally used to be a castle. By starting from his point of view, Sepetys begins with the glitz and glamour and luxury that tourists experienced and slowly leads us to see that everything is not as it appears.

The point of view switches around so that we eventually see how hard life was for the other main character, Ana, a young Spanish woman working as a maid in the hotel. Franco’s Guardia Civil tortured and killed her parents after the Civil War because they wanted better schools that were independent from the Catholic church. Ana and her siblings are terrified of drawing attention to themselves and meeting a similar fate. They live in a hovel and have big dreams but no real hope of ever pursuing them.

There is a lot to discuss and think about in this book. It would be an excellent choice for a book group. Whether you read it alone or with a group, just do yourself a favor and read it.

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  1. I know I would love this author if I ever got around to reading her. Also interesting to see it compared to Northern Light! I really liked that book.

    1. A Northern Light is one of my top ten favorite books. I won’t say that Ruta Sepetys has broken into those ranks yet, but I can see it happening at some point in the future.

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