The Fountains of Silence

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.


In the Bag

9780062108050_p0_v1_s260x420If you are in the mood for a light, funny romance – Sophie Kinsella style – try Kate Klise’s In the Bag.  Two teenagers on vacation inadvertently pick up the other’s bag in Charles de Gaulle International Airport.  They reconnect via email and arrange to exchange bags, not realizing their respective parents have already made a connection.  The plot is silly; the characters have silly names – Coco Sprinkle; but the story is romantic and fun.  Eventually, the two teens blossom into boyfriend/girlfriend, with her mother and his father dating – as they head back into the sunset – or rather the Chicago area – after a week of sightseeing and good eating.


La Sagrada Familia

The story is set in Spain, with descriptions of the Prada Museum in Madrid and La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona – places I’ve toured – and in Paris, with descriptions of the Rodin

Rodin Museum, Paris

Rodin Museum, Paris

Museum and shopping at Galleries Lafayette – also good travel memories for me.  An added bonus: a reminder of one of the best restaurants in Paris – Le Petrelle.  Klise’s description of duck breast salad and ravioli stuffed with crayfish had my mouth watering.   In the Bag is book candy.

9780805093131_p0_v1_s260x420Although Kate Klise is a prolific writer of children’s books, In the Bag is her first book for adults.  I plan to find her 43 Cemetery Road series targeted for middle grade readers (The Phantom of the Post Office), but I have read her most recent picture book – Grammy Lamby and the Secret Handshake – a touching and funny primer on grandparent/grandchild relationships.

Related ReviewSophie Kinsella’s I’ve Got Your Number

Reading My Way Through Spain

Preparing for a trip can be as satisfying as traveling. As I looked forward to touring the paradores, drinking the Sangria, and eating the tapas, these books were on my Kindle:

Tales of the Alhambra by Washington Irving

The Blind Man of Seville by Robert Wilson

Winter in Madrid by C.J. Sanson

Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s books are based in Barcelona, and I found the street that housed the fictional Cemetery of Lost Books. Now that I’ve caught Catalan fever, I need to reread all my Zafón favorites…

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Hemingway was everywhere in Ronda, the home of the bullfight – his “Fiesta” might be a good alternative to watching the gore. And, if you are a Joyce fan, his chapter on Penelope in Ulysses was set in Ronda.

With the aroma of orange blossoms everywhere, a quiet garden with a view could inspire any reader.