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Review: The Fountains Of Silence

The Fountains of Silence

Title: The Fountains of Silence
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Genre: Historical Fiction
Page Count: 512 (including additional images, documents, and notes)
Published by: Philomel Books
Release Date: October 22, 2019
You can find it here: Bookshop.org


Starting in Madrid 1957, The Fountains of Silence aims to bring to light a dark, oppressive, and until recently quiet period of Spanish history under the dictatorship of Generalissimo Francisco Franco.

After years of civil war Spain has just opened its doors to American tourism and eighteen year old Daniel (son on a Texan oil tycoon) has just arrived at the historic Castellana Hotel. An eager budding photographer, Daniel wants to break away from his fathers business and pursue a career as a photographic journalist. Hoping to win a scholarship contest, he sets out to photograph Spain in an honest new light.

The journey is a gut wrenching, eye opening experience as he is guided by the gentle Ana (a maid at the hotel) and a cast of Spanish civilians that he meets. Uncomfortable secrets are exposed through his photographs and danger lies with each step as those with power try to maintain those secrets.

This is a heartbreaking story of violence, history, and the danger of silence.


Let’s talk genre and characters:

Historical fiction has always been the genre I gravitate towards the most as it brings to life historical events with the stories and experiences of past people all through our shared human condition and emotion. This usually allows deep connection to the characters.

With most historical fiction one must usually prepare for a slower pace, this actually isn’t the case with The Fountains of Silence. Short, choppy chapters keep the pages flipping quickly and while this is a 500 page novel, it definitely reads much faster … however …

Because of these short chapters it was very difficult for me to really connect to these characters like I wanted to. We fly through many different perspectives and it left me frustrated at times because I wanted to spend more time with Ana. With Daniel. With her brother, her sister, her cousin. But we were never given this. While this writing style did provide a feeling of urgency and ominous danger and secrets, it didn’t deliver that strong emotional connection I look for in my historical fiction.

Let’s talk subject matter, dictatorship and current politics:

I enjoyed the juxtaposition of Daniel’s privileged life within the hotel to that of the absolute poverty and terror the civilians of Spain were experiencing, serving as a great delivery method for the horrors that are revealed throughout this story.

It is tough subject matter. It is exposing great human suffering under cruel dictatorship. I’m not going to lie, it made me lose my breath a few times and is not for the light of heart. I struggle to give content warnings here because it will spoil the major secrets of the book, but I can tell you it is hard hitting without crossing the line into gratuitous. Which I greatly appreciated.

There is an ultimate message here of the dangers of silence and the often scary similarities to the current political climate since 2016. While at first glance it may look like the classism of the server-master dynamic in this story is a marker of bygone days, I argue (and I believe Ruta Sepetys asks you to see) that classism, the gap between the rich and the poor, the have and the have not is almost greater today.

Overall thoughts:

This is an excellent, hard hitting, crossover historical fiction that will appeal to both the YA and Adult market. While connection is hindered by short chapters is does not take away from the triumph of the whole. The tragedy of this time period, the danger of silence, and the startlingly scary parallelism to classism and politics of today is remarkable. Ruta Sepetys has done extensive research and has tried to show the history in a respectful light. The included photographs, documents and excerpts continually brought home the reality of this history and the strength of her message. An excellent historical fiction that will haunt you.

TBR Rating: High

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