Ruta Sepetys is a new author for me and I was drawn to The Fountains of Silence because it is set in the Spanish Civil War. Only after finishing the book did I realise Sepetys is a Young Adult author though this does not mean she backed away from tackling difficult subjects or that the book lacks emotional depth. Basically, this is a tale of young love in politically sensitive times.
The story starts in 1957 when teenager Daniel Matheson arrives in Madrid, Spain, with his parents. Daniel, a talented photographer, wants to go to J-School to study as a photojournalist; his father wants him to work at the family oil company. Playing diplomat between them is Daniel’s mother, who was born in Spain. The family stays at the Castellana Hilton where they are assigned an assistant, Ana. While Daniel takes photos, his father tries to close an oil deal. Only when Daniel meets Ben Stahl from the Madrid bureau of the New York Herald Tribune, does he understand his father’s deal involves meetings with General Franco.
As Ana and Daniel grow closer, hiding their relationship and sneaking precious moments together, Sepetys shows the dark side of life under Spain’s dictator. Truths are hidden, atrocities are committed every day, desperate poverty is normal and people live under daily fear of the Guardia Civil, Franco’s police force. Ana’s cousin Pura, who works at the Inclusa orphanage, has a curious mind and is puzzled by some of the things she sees at the orphanage and its associated clinics and hospital. Ana’s brother Rafa and his friend Fuga work as gravediggers where they bury many tiny coffins. Then Fuga discovers that some of them are empty. There are many unanswered questions that are dangerous to investigate; Rafa and Fuga hope Daniel’s photographs will reveal the truth.
Fuga’s lifelong ambition is to be a bullfighter and, wearing a borrowed traje de luces [a suit of lights, worn by bullfighters in the ring], he gets his first chance. In exchange for driving Fuga to the location of the fight, Daniel takes photos. Fuga and Daniel make an uneasy truce.
I was left wanting to know more from certain characters; particularly Fuga, and Julia, Ana’s sister, so critical to the plot but whose voice is hardly heard. Although the viewpoint switches around often, the bulk of the narration is by Daniel. The cast list is long, too long perhaps, which adds to the slightly disjointed feeling of chunks of story remaining untold. Some of the language sounded contemporary rather than post-Civil War Spain – ‘father-son dynamic’ – but Sepetys weaves in Spanish phrases and this adds authenticity and worked well.
Septeys is skilled at describing 1957 Madrid, she creates a totally believable picture. If you know nothing about the Franco dictatorship, this book is a good place to start. I was left wanting to know more; perhaps this is the difference between a YA novel and one written for adults. But The Fountains of Silence has made me curious to read more by Sepetys, particularly her WW2 books Salt to the Sea and Between Shades of Grey.
BUY THE BOOK
If you like this, try:-
‘Midnight in Europe’ by Alan Furst
‘The Tuscan Secret’ by Angela Petch
‘Our Friends in Berlin’ by Anthony Quinn
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE FOUNTAINS OF SILENCE by @RutaSepetys #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4IC via @SandraDanby