This is my first experience with Ruta Sepetys. It didn’t disappoint! The Fountains of Silence takes place under the reign of General Francisco Franco, after the Spanish Civil War and WWII.
We follow the lives of four very different characters. Daniel is from Texas, the son of a wealthy oil tycoon. Ana is the daughter of Republican parents that were executed when she was younger. She lives with her older sister’s family and works at the Castellana Hilton in Madrid. Rafa is her brother, who was forced to attend a reform school following the death and discovery of his parents, and became friends with Fuga, an aspiring torero (bull fighter). He wants nothing more than to work the arena at Fuga’s side as his promoter and protector. Puri is Ana’s cousin, a staunch Catholic and supporter of Franco. She works at the orphanage, caring for all the abandoned children.
This is a largely character driven novel and the plot takes quite some time to reveal itself. I didn’t mind it here, because the chapters were all very quick (2 or 3 pages, sometimes less) and I was urged onward by Daniel’s relationship with Ana, as well as the tension brought on by his passion for photography in a country that was very careful not to let the rest of the world see inside Franco’s regime. Puri and Rafa also have story line’s with some intrigue and each line pulled me in and kept me engaged at different times in different ways.
The plot, which as I said is slow to be revealed, is incredibly sinister. The reader gets hints here and there of what is to come, but it’s something so awful the reader just doesn’t want to believe. To get to the end and learn the truth of things… I was shocked. It’s a secret that has really only come to light in 2018, if I understood the note at the end correctly. A full 40 years after the death of Franco, which only heightened the impact of the story Sepetys has told.
The writing was descriptive and painted beautiful pictures without ever feeling like it was spending too much time on the details. I love when a writer can make me feel the setting with just one sentence, one single image, and Sepetys does it wonderfully. People standing in line for blood, a torero in a suit of lights in profile, people washing at the fountain, a garden in Madrid at night… I felt transported to another time and place and found the book almost impossible to put down.
The only thing that held this back from being a full five star read – was I wished I understood Puri’s character and story better in the end. It’s clear in the beginning that she is young and naive, and she undergoes an awakening of sorts throughout the novel, but in the end we see her, and she’s maintained her silence for ten years, and the reader never really gets a chance to understand what she’s thinking in the end. Thank you to the publisher for sending a review copy.