Imagine watching your parents being murdered in front of you. Imagine having to pay for your mother’s grave, but not knowing where it is because she was considered an “enemy of the state”. Imagine being told that your baby had died, when they are actually being put up for adoption so that “more suitable” parents can be found. These are just a few of the atrocities that many Spaniards experienced under the fascist dictatorship of General Franco.
#1 New York Times bestselling author Ruta Sepetys returned in October with her fourth book, The Fountains of Silence, which explores these topics amongst others. Sepetys writes about historical events that aren’t widely known to the general public. She writes in such a way that many readers’ interests are piqued, without making it feel like a history lesson. I have now read three of Sepetys’ books and each one has gripped me with its beautifully crafted plot and left me with a desire to learn more about the history.
The Fountains of Silence is set in Madrid 1957. Eighteen year old American photographer Daniel Matheson is visiting Madrid with his parents for the summer. Ana is attending to the Matheson family during their stay at the Castellana Hilton. Her family was wrecked by the civil war. A flirtation develops between Ana and Daniel, but Ana’s past has left her reluctant to trust. Daniel wants to capture the authentic Madrid with his photography but his desire for the truth might just lead to his discovery of the dark side of Madrid.
Ruta Sepetys’ writing is sublime. There are so many brilliant twists and turns. Daniel Matheson is one of the best male characters I have encountered in fiction. He has strong principles and integrity but he still has flaws. Making Daniel a photographer was a great decision by Sepetys as it means she can observe from a different perspective- the camera lens. She describes each snapshot in such detail that you feel like you are looking at the image.
Sepetys also used the unique setting of the book to create an inspired sequence of chapters, in which each character goes to confession (Catholicism was the only religion allowed in Fascist Spain). It is an ingenious way of displaying the characters’ inner turmoil. Throughout the book, there are snippets of speeches and letters from Americans about the situation in Spain. This not only makes the book feel more authentic but shows how much research goes into historical fiction.
The Fountains of Silence is a must-read because it explores an important part of European history that is often neglected in the classroom. And it has a story that will draw you in even if you don’t normally read historical fiction.
Featured image via @rutasepetysauthor