In The Fountains of Silence, Ruta Sepetys unpeals the layers of horror inside Francisco Franco’s Spain. His dictatorship lasted over 30 years, while Europe turned a blind eye and the United States made deals to profit itself, often at the expense of Spain’s poorer citizens. Within the context of a Spanish family still suffering the consequences of the 1930’s Civil War in 1950, and a young American blissfully ignorant in his bubble of wealth and privilege, Sepetys writes a story with sound historical notes.
Photography and romance wield strong influences on the young hero, eighteen year old Daniel Matheson, when he returns to Madrid to visit his mother’s homeland with his Texas oil baron father. The newly constructed Hilton creates a backdrop for privileged American businessmen and their families, while the underbelly of the building keeps the secrets of the impoverished locals who serve as maids and bellboys. Daniel falls for Ana, the hotel maid assigned to his family, and through her discovers the hidden world of Franco’s Spain.
Sepetys periodically inserts letters and speeches with quotes from real sources, providing a provocative perspective on how the American government and capitalist leaders forgave fascism to do business with Franco’s regime. The well researched details brought Franco’s Spain and its people to life, while reflecting greed, political corruption, and the determination to overcome them.
At the heart of the story is an ongoing mystery. Babies are separated from their parents at birth and redistributed as orphans to be adopted by more “desirable” families. Daniel becomes inadvertently involved in the intrigue and tries to use his photojournalism to stem the corruption before he returns to Texas, but without success.
The ending jumps to twenty years later, with Franco dead and Daniel returning to Spain with his younger sister. The finale is both romantic and nostalgic, with hopes for a promising future for both the characters and the country finally resurrected from years of oppression.
This was a time and place I knew little about, and I found it an easy way to learn history, while enjoying a love story with a happy ending.