This is probably the most unique historical fiction book I’ve read ALL year. My first read by Ruta Sepetys did not disappoint!
Rating: 4/5 stars
Favorite quote: “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.”
First line: “They stand in line for blood.”
1936: a rebel group called the Nationalists, aided by Hitler and Mussolini, overthrows Spain’s government and establishes a fascist dictatorship under the leadership of Francisco Franco.
1957: The Spanish Civil War is over now, but the aftermath remains. Under Franco’s regime, Spaniards live in secrecy and fear.
“This is Franco’s Spain. They’re all hiding something.“
Freedom of speech is a thing of the past, and extreme Catholicism is the enforced religion of the state. Franco wants to cultivate Spain’s commercial relationship with the United States, so Madrid is an open door to tourists and businesspeople.
When 18-year-old Daniel Matheson arrives in Madrid with his parents, wealthy Texan socialites with a thriving oil business, he is entranced by the capital’s elusive atmosphere. An aspiring photojournalist, he takes it upon himself to capture civilian life under the dictatorship. As he meets people like Ana, a young maid at his hotel, and her family, he begins to realize that Madrid’s cultivated facade may be hiding something much more sinister.
This book was so many different things: intriguing, unique, dark, and richly detailed. First of all, I had never heard of this historical period. There was a Spanish Civil War? I had no idea. But Ruta Sepetys is known for writing about “forgotten history”, and I love that.
That brings me to my next point: this book was SO well-researched. I read in one of her interviews that Ruta spends three years on average doing research for each of her books. That’s real dedication! I could tell how deeply she dove into this time period.
Reading the book, I felt like Daniel and Ana and everyone else were real, and I had really traveled to 1957 Madrid. I don’t know if this comparison makes sense, but it almost read like a documentary transcript or an interview or something. It was told in third person present tense, and the matter-of-fact writing style combined with the multi-perspective take contributed to the documentary-like feel.
The reason I didn’t give this 5 stars was because of the pacing and the point of view jumps. There were a bunch of different characters, and the book would jump between their perspectives without warning, which was a little jarring and confused me at first. It was hard to keep track of everyone towards the beginning. The pacing was pretty slow, and I would have enjoyed a little more action. I also didn’t like how every single chapter ended with a cliffhanger sentence that almost seemed forced.
However, I finished the book in one afternoon even though it was almost 500 pages (the chapters are very short) and I think it was purposefully written as more of a character-driven story, which certainly contributed to the verisimilitude.
Overall, I really did like this book. If this makes any sense, its vibe focused more on the “historical” in “historical fiction“. It felt decidedly historical to me (that may have made more sense in my head).
And although The Fountains of Silence is marketed as YA, I feel like it’s really borderline between YA and adult. All of the characters were 17-18+ or in their 20s-30s, and it was pretty complex. The top shelf for it on Goodreads is Historical Fiction, not YA. (What I’m trying to say is I think people who regard YA as too immature would still enjoy this because it did not read quite like typical YA)
It focused on a lot of interesting themes too, like the oppressiveness of silence and how religion can be used to manipulate people. Franco used Catholicism as a means to control the public: questioning authority was labeled a sin, and the government basically told everyone they would go to hell if they didn’t comply. I thought it was really disturbing when, at one point, a character went to confession and asked for forgiveness for being concerned about something suspicious she saw at work.
And, as you can tell from the title, much of the story focuses on how the citizens were silenced by fear, and the importance of free speech.
I would recommend this to anyone who wants to read an educational and thought-provoking historical fiction book!
Wow, what a LONG post. If you read this whole thing, I’m honestly surprised… my book reviews keep getting longer every single time I blog. I guess my deeply-ingrained habitual verbosity is beginning to show itself.
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*all quotes in this review are directly from The Fountains of Silence*