Historical Fiction was never a genre I considered to be my favorite. I dipped my toes into it, tried some of the most popular books, like The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Fall of Giants by Ken Follet and All the Lights We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. And while I was impressed by these works, I never truly experienced a full immersion in this literary genre.
Everything changed with just one Ruta Sepetys book, who masterfully introduced the heartbreaking story of love, fear, and truth into the most severe times in Spanish history.
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 guise of sunshine and wine. Among them is eighteen-year-old Daniel Matheson, the son of a Texas 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 decisions to protect those he loves. Lives and hearts collide, revealing an incredibly dark side to the sunny Spanish city.
Thank you Netgalley and Penguin Random House UK Children’s for a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions expressed herein are my own and not influenced by the company or its affiliates in any way.
I don’t think I’ve ever read a book where every single character played such an important role in the story. Julia, Rafa and Ana, siblings whose fate was decided by Franco’s hand; their inquisitive cousin Purification and Rafa’s best friend from the orphanage Fuga, later known as El Huerfano. I loved them all, I worried about their fate, and I even shed some tears when things weren’t going well for them.
WHAT I LIKED:
1 – Ruta Sepetys has done a magnificent job transmitting the feelings, the emotions of people subjugated to Franco’s regime. Everyone knows about the dictatorship in Spain, but most of us only know what we’ve read from the history books in school. That is why Historical Fiction is such a powerful tool to expand that knowledge, to dive deeper, to get personal and learn about important historical events from a different perspective.
The fiction element and the made-up characters are what brings so much emotion into the book, that helps us, readers, to memorize the historical events. They get imprinted in our minds and in our hearts because we feel so deeply for people who suffered from the regime and its consequences.
Why don’t we have required reading for history classes that also includes some Historical Fiction books?
I would be so much more interested in learning about Franco’s regime after or during reading «The Fountains of Silence». Isn’t it a better way to captivate the audience than chucking some dates and dry facts at them and hope that they will stick?
2 – Besides the emotional factor, Ruta Sepetys was able to weave in her fictional story some very important elements of Franco’s regime:
- the place of women in the society,
- the lost children of Francoism,
- the poverty and inequality,
- the rising doubts in Spanish Catholic Church,
- the international relationship between postwar Spain and the USA.
With so many female characters in «The Fountains of Silence», it was only right to provide a better view of women’s rights and place in Franco’s Spain. We got to see the comparison of views, wishes, and lifestyles between (1) Purification, the smart young girl devoted to the Catholic Church, working in the orphanage that was run by nuns;
“She most certainly has faith, but she also has questions.
Can’t she have both?”
(2) Ana and Julia, the daughters of the Republicans, barely surviving in the poorest part of Madrid, trying to make the ends meet;
“Fascist doctrine states that a woman’s ultimate destiny is marriage, motherhood, and domesticity.”
and (3) the life of American women, portrayed through Daniel’s mother and girlfriend, the photographs in magazines and newspapers that were scattered around the Hotel where Ana worked but forbidden everywhere else.
Reading about the ultimate destiny of women (motherhood) and seeing those young girls so scared of Franco’s dictatorship and his Crows, the guards of his regime, but also so fearless about protecting their families, distinguishing right from wrong, left a deep mark on me and my perception of women’s rights. It made me think about how far we’ve come, especially in the Western and European societies. And how many women there still are that suffer from that fear every single day.
3 – Continuing the previous point, I couldn’t skip the part about the lost children of Francoism. That is something that I didn’t know about this period of time and only researched after finishing the book because I was so horrified by t these events.
This all began with the children being abducted from their Republican parents, and put in the orphanages or gave out for adoption to “proper” families in hopes that the “right” parents will remove that republican strike from the children.
Later on, the abduction of children developed into a business. Often, in hospitals and cliniques, newborns would be declared dead to their parents, just to be sold for a higher price for adoption.
This truly horrified me, and the events in the book translated this theme very well. I’ve read a couple of articles on this subject after I finished the book, and I still can’t wrap my head about the fact that something like that in such magnitude and with the involvement of so many people actually happened.
As you can see, I’d highly recommend this book solely based on the social conditions and representation of Francoism. However, those were not the only elements that were done magnificently well.
4 – Ana, Daniel, Rafa, Purification and others, each of their stories played with my feelings, made me happy for them and sad when things went downhill. Their personal stories were captivating, and I couldn’t get enough of them. And even after the book ended, I wanted more, I needed to know what Puri went through. I needed to see Rafa and how life treated him after the events. I just grew so attached to the characters that I didn’t want to let them go.
I could talk about this book for hours. I’d tell you about the fearless Rafa, righteous Fuga, and cautious Julia. But I wouldn’t do them justice the same way that Ruta Sepetys did. «The Fountains of Silence» is, in my opinion, a true masterpiece of historical fiction, and everyone needs to read it at least once in their lifetime.
OTHER BOOKS BY RUTA SEPETYS: