Book Review: Learning About Franco’s Spain in The Fountains of Silence

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I read an ARC of Ruta Sepetys’ The Fountains of Silence for Barnes & Noble’s YA Book Club. It isn’t probably a book that I would have otherwise picked up. Although Sepetys’ books are well reviewed, hers is not a genre into which I often venture, and Salt to the Sea and Between Shades of Gray both about persecuted characters in WWII seem too desperately tragic for me to find reading them enjoyable; I tend to favor literature that helps me to escape the tragedy of life over that that reminds me of the tragedy of the past, as much as I know that it is important to remember.

But it’s only since 2007 that I have found history past the 1600s or so interesting.

Besides hearing the name Franco and knowing him to have been a leader of Spain, I was and am woefully ignorant about this period of Spanish and world history.

I learned a little from this novel.

I won’t pretend that I learned a lot or that I learned enough.

The novel centers one family, now adults or older teenagers, whose parents have been killed in the civil war and who are now living in the slums of Madrid and getting by as best as they can do. The son of an American oil baron comes to stay at a hotel where one member of the family, Ana Torres Moreno, works. Daniel Matheson is an outsider in Texas high society because of his Spanish mother, and his father frowns on his aspiration to become a photographer. In Franco’s Spain, the press is censored. Daniel quickly gets in trouble with the Guardia Civil for photographing aspects of Spanish society that Franco would rather be kept silent and out of the world’s eye—and the novel untangles why that particular photo gets his film confiscated, what act is being perpetrated by the nuns.

Daniel and Ana bond over Daniel’s photography and Daniel’s kindness and dreams of a more free future. Ana opens his eyes to the darker side of the Franco’s Spain, but she cannot open them enough to believe herself able to make a relationship with him—not until after Franco’s death, when the two of them have pined for one another for nearly two decades despite having no contact with one another in that time.

This plot was… too tight for me, a very rare complaint from me, but I could not suspend my belief enough to think that the Morenas and the Mathesons would be so intricately woven together as Sepetys writes them. The writing itself was good, but I had some trouble with that aspect of the plot. On the one hand I am glad that the book did not end on the sorrow of Daniel’s departure from Spain. On the other hand, that first part of the novel that ended in heartbreak was the more believable end. I might have ended with Daniel and Christina arriving in Spain and being greeted by Nick, though that would not have centered the story on the plight of Spain as Sepetys intends I think to do. SPOILERS Or just don’t have Daniel and Ana fall back into one another’s arms so easily! That would have solved a lot. And having Christina be Ana’s stolen niece and the child over which Ana’s cousin Puri, also adopted, so dotes, her Clover…. It’s all just too much—too much convenience and coincidence.

A few positive details: I appreciated the detailed glossary of Spanish terms and phrases in the back of the book. I have seen books suffer from a lack of such a glossary, and while I didn’t need it in every instance, I was glad to be able to check so easily what I remembered of Spanish classes now almost two decades past.

Sepetys opens many chapters with firsthand sources—pieces of interviews with US officials, newspaper clippings, photographs—which lend legitimacy to her portrayal of Franco’s Spain. If only because it shows that she absolutely did her research and dug into archives for information.

This is an entertaining introduction to the plight of the Spanish people under Franco’s rule, but I personally enjoyed learning from it more than I enjoyed the story of it.

***

Sepetys, Ruta. The Fountains of Silence. Philomel-Penguin Random, 2019.

Intended audience: Ages 12+, Grades 7+.

This review is not endorsed by Ruta Sepetys, Philomel Books, or Penguin Random House. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

A question to my readers:  Do you think I should include a photo of the books’ text in my reviews if I have one?  Will that help you decide to read or skip a book?

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