Sometimes when I read a book I find myself startled by how little I know about the subject. This was definitely how I felt when reading Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys, which takes place in Madrid during Franco’s dictatorship. I didn’t really understand what life was like in Spain during Franco’s 30+ year reign (or even that he was in power for that long!), and I’m a bit shocked that it wasn’t discussed more when I was in school.
And funnily enough, there is actually a line in the book where one character tells another that people don’t learn about Franco because he’s still alive. We didn’t learn about him after he died either so I guess that theory doesn’t quite hold true! So, I found this book particularly interesting as a starting point for learning and researching more about Francoist Spain.
Fountains of Silence follows the story of an American teen, Daniel, and the young Spanish housekeeper, Ana, who cleans his room at the posh Madrid hotel where Daniel and his family are staying. Madrid is a grand city and its beauty is highlighted so wonderfully by Sepetys, especially since Daniel is a photographer and often describes what he is seeing and feeling through an artist’s eyes.
But Sepetys also details some of the less beautiful aspects of Madrid in 1957 and the many struggles and hardships one can face while living under a dictatorship. In particular, she highlights the stark contrast between the opulent lifestyles American tourists lead as compared to the staff who wait on them in the fancy hotels. It’s clear that the Spain actual citizens lived in was very different from the Spain tourists experienced when they visited the country under Franco’s rule.
While parts are upsetting and the actions described are sometimes appalling, Sepetys developed characters who clearly loved their country and wouldn’t let their current situation prevent them from hoping and dreaming for a better future. I later learned that Sepetys is the daughter of a refugee, which is probably why she is able to describe the strength and resilience of the characters so well.
There are several snippets of source material, including excerpts from news articles, scattered throughout which help to bring the time period to life. I also discovered that Fountains of Silence is considered YA, so it would be a great book for introducing teens to life under Franco.
Personally, YA or not, I found it to be a quick and enjoyable read and a great way to learn more about this challenging time in Spain’s history. Sepetys has other historical fiction novels, too, which I look forward to checking out soon!
Have you read Fountains of Silence or any of Sepetys other books? Let me know what you thought.
And please share any other novels about Francoist Spain in the comments that you think we should check out!
For more information: The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys