book review | The Fountains of Silence

Hello, friends! This review contains mild, vague spoilers.

I loved Ruta Sepetys’ Out of the EasyWith its impeccable research and compelling depiction of New Orleans’ historic underbelly, the novel quickly joined the ranks of my all-time favorite books.

I read Easy recently, and Sepetys’ work was on my mind. So, as the weather in my state grows hot and humid, I thought it natural to revisit The Fountains of SilenceTaking place in the summer of 1957, Sepetys’ latter novel explores life in the period following the Spanish Civil War, when Madrid was under the control of fascist leader Francisco Franco. I found the story, and its deceiving golden tones, fascinating.

Madrid, 1957. Under the fascist dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, Spain is hiding a dark secret. Meanwhile, tourists and foreign businessmen flood into Spain under the welcoming promise of sunshine and wine. Among them is eighteen-year-old Daniel Matheson, the son of an oil tycoon, who arrives in Madrid with his parents hoping to connect with the country of his mother’s birth through the lens of his camera. Photography–and fate–introduce him to Ana, whose family’s interweaving obstacles reveal the lingering grasp of the Spanish Civil War–as well as chilling definitions of fortune and fear. Daniel’s photographs leave him with uncomfortable questions amidst shadows of danger. He is backed into a corner of difficult decisions to protect those he loves. Lives and hearts collide, revealing an incredibly dark side to the sunny Spanish city (Goodreads).

Sepetys’ main characters may be Dan and Ana, but she crafts her tale using multiple perspectives. Readers learn of the importance of persistence from Rafa, Ana’s earnest and optimistic brother. Puri, their young cousin, gives us a peek into the psyche of a woman questioning the society she has always obeyed. Julia, Ana’s older sister, struggles to provide for their family and survive amid suspicion. We even get brief interludes from a young bellhop and a matador-in-training. Quotes from US officials and ambassadors separate the chapters, providing real-life context for readers unfamiliar with Franco’s regime. 

The cast of characters is large, and it requires readers to process a lot of information. Luckily, Sepetys has experience in creating memorable supporting characters (Out Of the Easy’s French Quarter misfits were my favorite part of that story!) In this novel, highlights included: Carlitos, a preteen hotel employee whose love of Texas renders him Dan’s confidant, Ben, a grizzled (albeit trope-y) reporter/romantic sage, and Miguel, a kind photography store owner. With so many characters, though, a few inevitably fell flat: I struggled to understand the book’s stance on the elder Mr. Matheson, for example. But overall, a cast of vibrant personalities inhabits The Fountains of Silence and its vision of midcentury Madrid.

While the collection of fleeting perspectives can be unsettling, Sepetys’ structure is no mere gimmick. Rather, it complements the novel’s setting: the glimpses into characters’ lives reflect the voyeuristic nature of Franco’s Spain. The set-up worked especially well during the novel’s confession sequence, in which four young people successively talk to a priest. Those few pages manage to confront moral ideology, desire, and religion’s role in corrupt power structures.

I enjoyed The Fountains of Silence immensely, but it is not an easy read. Sure, the love story is charming and warm and moving. But like the novel’s tropical, wine-washed setting, dark tones lurk underneath the breezy surface. At no point does Sepetys shy away from the complexities of life under a dictatorship: The Fountains of Silence contains chilling descriptions of death, hardship, and heartbreak, and it has a slow, immersive plot.

Readers (both young and old! Sepetys’ writing targets a YA crowd but dances the line between teenage and adult literature) should take time to sit with the novel’s messages. I latched onto the opening line, which Rafa first utters while working at a butcher shop in Vallecas. His words haunt the book. 

“They stand in line for blood.”  

notes

  • I bought this book last year from my favorite local bookstore. If possible, support local booksellers and libraries during this time. Consider buying your next purchase from Moon Palace Books in Minneapolis.  
  • Sepetys’ earlier novel, Salt to the Sea, also has multiple perspectives. I am so eager to check out the rest of her work!  
  • Fountains of Silence, in structure and theme, reminded me of the BBC’s World on Fire. On a literary front, Sepetys’s novels recall Julie Berry’s books. (Berry is one of my absolute favorite authors, and I will forever maintain that The Passion of Dolssa is a gosh darn masterpiece.) 

xx

lulu

Currently Loving | May 3 – 10

Happy Mother’s Day everyone! I’m enjoying some warmer weather and sunshine this Sunday, while also catching up on schoolwork, reading, and (best of all!) baking. How about you?

Here are the books, songs, and other media that caught my eye this week…

Joan of Arc on the Dance Floor” by Aly & AJ | I’ve been listening to “Potential Breakup Song” on a constant loop since 2007. I’m giving that classic a rest, though, to enjoy Aly and AJ Michalka’s newest single. “Joan of Arc” is a pop banger, with electric beats and dark, cool-girl lyrics. It’s like you’re at a club, but that club also happens to be a graveyard. Dance on, everyone. 

The Borgias | Just when I think I’ve exhausted the backlog of soap-y TV period dramas, a new one always finds its way into my Netflix queue. In the same vein as Reign and The Tudors, The Borgias (2013) is a sexy, scandalous take on the Renaissance papacy. The show is nowhere near historically accurate, nor is it always very good. But it’s always pretty, always twist-y, and I can’t stop watching.  

Home Cooking Podcast | The West Wing Weekly won my podcast heart, so I was delighted to hear that former TWWW host Hrishi Hirway was teaming up with professional chef Samin Nosrat to produce a 4-part audio miniseries. Armed with expert knowledge and top-notch puns, the pair answers listeners’ questions about cooking during quarantine. It’s very inspiring; thanks to Samin, I made a medieval precursor to eggnog!

Mothers Before, edited by Edan Lepucki | I read an excerpt from Mothers Before earlier this week on The Cut, and though I haven’t been able to get my hands on the full book, it won a place on my “to-read” list for sure. The collection of essays and photos is so moving (and timely, considering today’s celebrations!)

Supernova by Marissa Meyer | I adore Marissa Meyer’s books. They’re dramatic. They’re fluffy. They’re usually too long. Fittingly, the conclusion to her Renegades trilogy gave me everything I wanted: superhero action, cheesy romance, and science fiction fun. It was great.

what things did you watch, read, or listen to this week?

xx

lulu

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top five books about women in art!

art ladies are smart ladies.

Hello friends!

I’ve spent the past few nights reading Nathalia Holt’s fascinating Queens of Animation. Holt’s examination of the women who shaped Disney’s history made me think of my other favorite books about women and art!* So here, in no particular order, are my current top five favorites…

Parker Looks Up by Parker and Jessica Curry, with illustrations by Brittany Jackson | This picture book captures the awe of two-year-old Parker Curry when she sees First Lady Michelle Obama’s portrait in DC. The illustrations are so adorable and the message is so vital. It will melt your heart, I swear.

The Queens of Animation by Nathalia Holt | I’ve already waxed poetic about this book, which is a Hidden Figures-esque look at women who worked in the Story and Animation departments at Walt Disney Studios. Holt profiles the artists Bianca Majolie, Grace Huntington, Sylvia Holland, Mary Blair, and Retta Scott, among others.

Women in Art: 50 Fearless Creatives Who Inspired the World by Rachel Ignotofsky | I love this book so, so much. Ignotofsky highlights 50 international artists from throughout history, compiling a collection of both famous and underrated creators. Her illustrations are playful and enhance the great research; the book is a beautiful reference even for those who don’t practice art! (Ignotofsky’s website is also great. It has free Frida Kahlo coloring sheets! We love Frida!)

A Big Important Art Book (Now With Women) by Danielle Krysa | The Jealous Curator is a fantastic blog, highlighting lots of cool artwork and artists you’re probably unfamiliar with. Danielle Krysa’s accompanying book is also a worthy read. So much art! So much learning!

Mary Blair’s Unique Flair by Amy Novesky, with illustrations by Brittney Lee | This one is such a fun followup to The Queens of Animation; it’s a picture book following the life and career of artist Mary Blair (who designed the concept for “It’s A Small World”). Lee’s paper cut illustrations are amazing, and Novesky’s prose is delightful for all ages.

what are you currently reading?

xx

lulu

*It also made me think about how sexist the AP Art History curriculum is. We study 250 pieces of art and less than forty are from identified women artists. smh.

book review | Deathless Divide

After the fall of Summerland, Jane McKeene hoped her life would get simpler: Get out of town, stay alive, and head west to California to find her mother.

But nothing is easy when you’re a girl trained in putting down the restless dead, and a devastating loss on the road to a protected village called Nicodemus has Jane questioning everything she thought she knew about surviving in 1880’s America.

What’s more, this safe haven is not what it appears – as Jane discovers when she sees familiar faces from Summerland amid this new society. Caught between mysteries and lies, the undead, and her own inner demons, Jane soon finds herself on a dark path of blood and violence that threatens to consume her.

But she won’t be in it alone.

Katherine Deveraux never expected to be allied with Jane McKeene. But after the hell she has endured, she knows friends are hard to come by – and that Jane needs her, too, whether Jane wants to admit it or not.

Watching Jane’s back, however, is more than she bargained for, and when they both reach a breaking point, it’s up to Katherine to keep hope alive – even as she begins to fear that there is no happily-ever-after for girls like her (Goodreads).

walking up to the party after some casual zombie-slaying.

This weekend was big on zombies for me, apparently. Having binge-watched the final season of the CW’s delightful and shamefully underrated izombie, I went all in on the day’s undead theme and settled in to read Deathless Divide. My mind was already brimming with zombie-adjacent media (9 episodes worth!), and I had high expectations for the sequel to Dread Nation, one of my favorite books of the previous year. Would this second installment be able to maintain the clever tone and gory action that made the first book so great? Would the body count possibly surpass the murder-fest that was Dread Nation? Would I read the book, be disappointed, and then have to retroactively apologize to the numerous people I had cornered and forced to listen to my waxing poetic about the virtues of Justina’s Ireland undead histories?

Now, these were some deep thoughts. They weighed heavy on my shoulders; I feared my expectations would be left unmet. But(!) I knew Jane McKeene would not back down from such trials. So, neither would I. Like our favorite bounty-hunter-heroine facing an undead shambler horde, I put on a brave face (a Korean beauty sheet mask), harnessed my scythes (a pristine copy of Deathless Divide lovingly purchased from a local small bookstore), and went headfirst into battle (spending hours on my couch with the book, tea, and a blanket). 

Deathless Divide emerged from the fight triumphant!

Ireland’s characters remain the best part of the novel. Jane has my back, Katherine has my heart, and the novel’s abundance of ruffians have my ire. The new dual perspective between Jane and Katherine did throw me for a loop, but I adjusted quickly enough and never suffered from narrative confusion. Ireland was able to make the girls’ stories distinct, compelling, and exciting. I also enjoyed the quotes that accompanied each character’s chapter – those were fun! 

The writing takes on the (bloody, bloody) action with zeal, but Ireland’s overall descriptions and rhythm are truly lovely. She plays with the genre, using the zombie scenario to enhance descriptions and heighten emotion. One of my favorite passages comes from a Jane chapter, in which she surveys a gritty saloon: 

The inside is dark, dreary. The wooden floorboards are warped, the air hangs heavy with the stink of unwashed bodies, and the few lanterns that burn inside do more to heighten the gloom than to dispel it. There’s a small hearth, but the fire there ain’t enough to chase away the chill that clings to the room like a shambler that’s latched on for a bite. 

…one might think that in the end times there’d be no more use for such a den of iniquity, but the men within these four walls know better. They know that survival comes with a hefty price, and sometimes the only way is in forgetting.

PAGE 287

The novel is long and features a time jump, but the continuous action keeps things exciting and compelling. I appreciated the character growth in Jane over the long time span; that poor girl goes through hell by the novel’s end! Things ain’t easy when you’re tracking down your enemies, plagued with zombies and regret. 

Overall, this zombie western was so fun to read, gory bits and all. Its Black girl protagonists and depictions of love (both romantic and platonic) are super cool. Living on a frontier overrun with walking dead is a nightmare, but reading Deathless Divide was a dream. 

notes

  • Katherine is the best? Her narration was my favorite? I want to be her best friend/zombie-fighting partner? (The answer is yes.)
  • The cover! The clothes! The blood! Truly badass.
  • I recommend reading Audrey’s review on Goodreads for some important points about the depiction of non-Black minority groups in Deathless Divide. She articulated some thoughts that I myself had not considered!

Have you read Dread Nation or Deathless Divide? If not, do you have a favorite zombie-related piece of media? Do you, unlike me, think you’d be able to survive a zombie apocalypse? Key questions, everyone.