The Fountains of Silence – by Rita Sepetys – independent book review – Historical Fiction (Spain)

THE FOUNTAINS OF SILENCE is a powerful volume of historical fiction about the after effects of the Spanish Civil War (1936-9) during the brutal, decades-long dictatorship of Francisco Franco (1936-75). But it’s not full of battles and government decrees. Instead it’s about the lives of ordinary people, many poor, powerless, and afraid. Awarded four stars on Goodreads.

Central to the novel is a true story that only came to light about 10 years ago. For 60 years, beginning early in Franco’s Fascist reign and continuing until the 1990s, as many of 300,000 Spanish babies were stolen from their parents and trafficked, through a complex network involving nuns, priests, and doctors. Thousands of mothers, who had recently given birth, were then told their babies died when, in reality, these children were passed on to adoptive parents, sometimes at exorbitant costs. Franco’s government supposedly sponsored this trafficking, in part to punish parents who advocated Republicanism and in part because the government believed ALL children NEEDED to be raised by individuals loyal to the Fascist regime. Otherwise, they too might grow up to become Republicans.

Francisco Franco
Spanish Dictator (1936-1975) Photo from Wikipedia

Author Ruta Sepetys is ingenious with the construction of the book, which covers a period from the mid 1950s to 2018. Central in the plot is Texas-born Daniel Matheson, an 18 year old would-be photojournalist who travels to Madrid with his parents, as his father works to win oil-related business contracts from Franco’s government.

Daniel and his camera wind up coming into contact with a wide variety of people from vastly different strata of Spanish society: wealthy Americans from his own social circle, a handful of diplomats, members of the Guardia Civil (Franco’s national police force), desperately poor workers employed by his hotel, even a seasoned journalist. Using the interplay of these different characters is how Sepetys weaves her story, slowly and carefully, leading to an intense, page-turning finale.

Ruta Sepetys
Photo by Magda Starowleyska
from the author’s Website

The extensive research Sepetys incorporates (explained in the Author’s Note) is impressive. She offers pages and pages of resources (at the end of the novel) that she read. She visited slaughterhouses, orphanages, and a large Madrid hotel wealthy Americans frequented – all to capture details needed to create convincing settings in the book. She interviewed diplomats, photographers, healthcare providers, survivors who were haunted by memories and others who were desperate to speak. And she spoke with people involved in the myriad of agencies now working to heal the wounds from Spain’s past.

The book is an original, compelling AND devastating tale of Spain, war, dictatorship, family, friendship, and love. And the devastating effects of silence. All brought home by the stories of individual Spaniards. It’s also an excellent example of why I love reading historical fiction.

More about the author, Ruta Sepetys.

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