Tag Archives: Ruta Sepetys

The Fountains of Silence, by Ruta Sepetys

Fountains of SilenceMadrid, 1957. Daniel and his parents have traveled from Dallas so that his father can secure an oil deal in Spain. Until recently, the fascist dictator Francisco Franco has kept the country closed to foreign business, but now the U.S. government and major corporations are trickling back in. Daniel is eager to use the new camera that his mother gave him to capture the story of contemporary Spain. He plans to use the pictures in a photo contest he has entered in hopes that his winning photo-essay will help him to gain entry to the most prestigious journalism schools. Daniel’s whole world is photography, but his father wants him to follow in his own footsteps in the oil business. Daniel has a good eye and snaps photos of everything, but when he takes them to Miguel’s shop for developing, the older man warns him to use caution: this is not the United States. There are many dangerous secrets.

Daniel begins to feel the weight of the secrets when he falls for the beautiful hotel employee, Ana. She tells him that she cannot have dinner with him because the hotel does not allow the staff to interact with clients, but he suspects that it is more than that. Ana lives with her sister, Julia, her husband, Antonio, their baby, and their brother, Rafa, who works in a slaughterhouse. In his off time, Rafa helps his friend, Fuga, train to become the greatest matador Spain has ever seen. While waiting for his opportunity to find fame in the bullring, Fuga digs graves for a living.

Ana’s cousin Purificación works in the orphanage. There are so many orphans since the war, and Puri loves all of the children and hopes to find good homes for them. Puri wants to be perfect; she never asks questions, and she truly believes that Franco loves the people of Spain and is doing his best for them. Lately, however, Puri’s world has begun to get tangled with Fuga’s.

Ruta SepetysRuta Sepetys brings us another stunning tale from hidden history, just as she did in her superb first book, Between Shades of Gray, the story of her grandparents in Stalin’s Russia. Americans are generally uninformed about Francisco Franco’s regime that lasted for decades in Spain, partly because it began at the same time that the United States and most of the rest of the world were becoming embroiled in World War II. After that conflict ended, we were all engaged in putting our countries and our lives back together, and yet Franco continued in power for years. He did not die until 1975, and some of his policies lasted until the 1980s.

Sepetys fills Daniel with this sort of benevolent ignorance. He is optimistic, looking forward to college and a successful career, with an American belief that if we all see something bad, we will challenge it and fix it. His biggest problem is that his father doesn’t approve of his career choice, so it takes him a while to understand that Ana’s problems are overwhelming and complex, and he only narrowly avoids ruining the lives of people he cares about.

Although the plot is propelled by the forbidden romance that is growing between Daniel and Ana, the novel is carefully researched. Sepetys inserts selections from government documents between the chapters, showing what diplomats and bureaucrats knew—and didn’t know—about the Franco regime. Today, many people wonder whether American investment in Spain at the time may have allowed the dictator to remain in power longer. Sepetys herself wonders how far an outsider should go to tell the tale of another culture, especially in light of one particular shocking secret from which the Spanish people are still struggling to recover.

Beautiful writing, an absorbing story, and the slow revelation of one nation’s hidden horror make The Fountains of Silence a compelling novel. These are stories that we wish were not true, but we must expose them so that we will have our own eyes open to the terrifying extent of human depravity, and to be aware of those around us who are forced to be silent. Furthermore, we need to open these wounds to sunlight so that they may heal.

This novel, as well as everything else by Ruta Sepetys, is highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this book, which will be released in October, 2019. Get your pre-orders in now. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Out of the Easy

Josie Moraine is the daughter of a brothel prostitute in 1950 New Orleans. She’s smart, pretty, resourceful, and desperate to escape her seedy life in Louisiana. She has many friends on the underside of society, including Willie, the madame of the house where her mother works, and Patrick, the boy whose father, Charlie, owns the bookstore where she is employed. Josie lives in the attic apartment over the bookstore, as she has since she was eleven years old and had to get away from her mother’s influence.

Also known to her are the dangerous men in the Old Quarter: Marcello, the mob boss, and Cincinnati, her mother’s “boyfriend,” who repeatedly threatens her life. When society girl Charlotte comes into the bookshop and invites Josie and Patrick to her uncle’s house for a party, Josie begins to dream of joining Charlotte at Smith College in Massachusetts, even though being admitted or paying the tuition seems like just a dream. Life gets even more complicated when a wealthy man from Alabama, Forrest Hearne, buys books from her one afternoon and then winds up dead that evening, and Josie becomes entangled in a murder investigation. When she finds Hearne’s expensive watch under her mother’s bed, she hides it instead of turning it over to Willie immediately, as she should. Furthermore, Josie sees Charlotte’s uncle at Willie’s house and begins to blackmail him into writing her a letter of recommendation to Smith. The uncle is not easily cowed, however, and begins to demand more and more of Josie before he will write the letter.

Although Josie is intelligent and well-read, she has grown up in an environment that has taught her to lie and to use other people to one’s advantage, even though she knows in her heart that it is wrong. Her relationship with her mother, who has absolutely no redeeming qualities, is so complex as to be infuriating to the reader. We understand why anyone would instinctively protect one’s mother, but as Josie is seriously hurt by her again and again, we want to see Josie triumph in life, just once. The anguish in the novel is excruciating at times, as Josie gets herself into some terrifying situations, and the author does not sweeten them up for a minute.

Ruta Sepetys is the celebrated author of Between Shades of Gray, a novel about Stalin based on the lives of her grandparents from Lithuania. Between Shades of Gray made such an impression on me last year that I seriously believe it should be read by every teen and adult. We do not know nearly enough about Stalin, and Sepetys has a tale to tell.

Out of the Easy is different. First of all, I don’t see that it is a teen novel. Although Josie is seventeen and eighteen at the time, her environment and situation are very adult. There are descriptions of the inner workings of a brothel that were more than I wanted to think about, and a younger teen, especially, may not even understand what is implied. Most of the characters are adults; even Patrick and bad boy Jesse are in their early twenties. It is a coming-of-age story, but there are many adult novels with this theme.

All that being said, this was a very absorbing story of ambition, betrayal, and honor. Josie finds out who truly loves her and what in life is worth pursuing. All of the characters were richly portrayed, and the reader comes to care about so many of them and deeply despise others. The atmosphere of hot, humid New Orleans is a character in itself. At times, the tension is stretched like a wire, and Sepetys does not spare Josie the consequences of her decisions, nor does she soften the realities of underworld life. For adults and older teens, Josie’s dreams and struggles will stay with you for a long time. Out of the Easy will be published in February, 2013.

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Usual disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this title, provided by the publisher. Opinions expressed are my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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