The Fountains of Silence – Ruta Serpetys

The Fountains of Silence

„Silence has a voice of its own.“

The Fountains of Silence, Ruta Serpetys, S.641

Oh my, I marked so many passages in this one. The Fountains of Silence, written by Rita Serpetys, takes place in Spain 1957 during the Franco-Regime. Daniel, a young aspiring photojournalist from Dallas, visits Madrid with his Spanish mother and American father. He has just graduated from Highschool and is never seen without his camera. Talented as he is, he wants to attend Journalism School, a dream which his father, who successfully deals with oil, disapproves of. So, in Madrid, capital city of a country under a dictatorship, Daniel collects pictures to hand in at the Magnum Photography Prize. Winning the competition could pave his way to photojournalism.  

„Chose an angle and show me ten layers of Madrid“

The Fountains of Silence, Ruta Serpetys, S.220

Throughout the book, the heat of Madrid keeps washing through the Streets and the corridors and open balcony doors of the Castellana Hilton, the American Hotel where Daniel stays with his wealthy parents. While most tourists shut them, Daniel doesn’t. He feels the pull of the city, an intense connectedness with the country his mother was born in. The open balcony doors are one of the things This is where Ana Torres Moreno, a young Spanish girl who works at the hotel, notices first about Daniel. 

Two countries witnessing a dictatorship

Ana is assigned to attend to the needs of Daniel’s family during their stay at the hotel. She is pretty, smart and funny and dreams of leaving Spain one day. Soon, Daniel falls for her. But they are in a dictatorial country in which many people constantly try to keep dangerous secrets to stay safe in Francisco Franco’s regime. And their familiar backgrounds are quite different. Not the easiest situation to fall in love with each other. 

„Threats, yellow cards, war, fear, and silence fall like leaves from a tree abandoning its season.“

The Fountains of Silence, Ruta Serpetys, S.748

They do so nevertheless. The story of their initially innocent love shows the huge impact secrets, dangerous and oppressive circumstances and fear can have on young love. It always matters from which side you regard a situation. And it often is difficult to understand the choices another person’s makes for their life from the outside looking in, no matter how much you like or love or wish to help that person. But The Fountains of Silence is also about trying nevertheless and about not giving up on each other too easily.

The story of Ana and Daniel is not the only one told in The Fountains of Silence. There is Ana’s past as a child of dissidant Republicans. There are her brother, Rafa, who dreams of helping his best friend become a Torrero and their sister, Julia, a young mother saving money to build up a future for her daughter. And there are Ana’s cousin Purificación who works at an orphanage and Miguel, the owner of a photography shop. On the other hand, Nick, an American diplomat’s son and Ben, an American journalist working in Madrid witness Francois from an American point of view.

Unattended chapters in European history

„Look, you study Hitler and Mussolini in school, but you don’t study Franco.“

The Fountains of Silence, Ruta Serpetys, S.460

When I first picked up The Fountains of Silence I realized exactly what the quote indicates: That I knew next to nothing about Spanish history. An alarming finding, given the fact that I took classes dealing with European History all throughout School. But the Spanish Civil War and the following period of dictatorship have never been made a subject in those. So, The Fountains of Silence taught me many things I had not known before reading it.

The Fountains of Silence

Watching Interviews with Ruta Serpetys, I found that her books are not only well researched, but that she does her research in a very engaged way, which I appreciate as a reader and which was obvious in the way she described the people and the society of 1950s‘ Spain.

As I work in journalism I additionally really liked how much this book is about photography, journalism and the idealistic urge to tell an important story. I found many parts of the book inspirational for my own work, for looking at the world and the people living in it with an open mind and telling their stories, whether visually or by writing them down. 

Check out some of my own photography here.

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