Ruta Sepetys Explores the Spanish Civil War in New YA Novel

Posted by Marie on October 1, 2019
Award-winning and internationally acclaimed author Ruta Sepetys is best known for her young adult historical fiction novels Out of the Easy, Between Shades of Gray, and Salt to the Sea. The latter was the Goodreads Choice Award winner for YA Fiction in 2016.

Sepetys' latest release, The Fountains of Silence, takes place in the 1950s and renders the lingering effects of the Spanish Civil War. It's also the product of seven years' worth of research. "And I could have spent seven more!" she says.

Sepetys spoke to Goodreads via email to discuss what compelled her to explore these historical events and how she manages to instill hope in readers even while drawing them into humanity's darker moments.

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Goodreads: Your novels often take readers far and wide. In The Fountains of Silence, you’ll be bringing them to Madrid, 1957. What drew you to this particular time and place?

Ruta Sepetys: To an American tourist, Madrid in the 1950s was full of mystery and glamour. But beneath the surface, some people in Spain suffered in silence. The idea of historical perception vs. reality has always intrigued me. What determines how history is preserved? If we peel back a layer, what secrets might we find beneath the surface?

GR: Your book opens with this anonymous epigraph: "We have only died if you forget us." How does memory (either collective or individual) play a role in your novel?

RS: In the novel, some are desperate to remember, while others are desperate to forget. The characters are hunted and haunted by their memories. Things that happened in their past are now dictating their future. The story asks the question: Is it better to face the demons of the past head-on or to ignore them and allow them to remain on the sidelines?

GR: Daniel, Ana, Rafa, and Puri are the four main characters here. How did you come to choose their points of view?

RS: I spent years researching the post–Spanish Civil War period in Spain and quickly realized that there were many different experiences and perceptions during the dictatorship. In an attempt to present a balanced portrayal, I created characters from varied walks of life to illustrate how each person's experience was unique.

Puri navigates the Francoist side, Ana and Rafa represent the Spanish Republican side, and Daniel enters as an American tourist, unaware.

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GR: How was writing The Fountains of Silence different from your previous books?

RS: My previous books all contained threads of my personal family history. I felt acquainted with the topics and was able to write those stories from the inside out. Since I have no family ties to Spain, I had to write The Fountains of Silence from the outside in.

That's why I chose to have a character visiting Spain from Dallas, to give the reader the lens of an outsider. Because the subject was new for me, I insisted on doing more research than normal. I spent seven years researching The Fountains of Silence, and I could have spent seven more!

GR: Your stories often shine a light on very dark moments in history. How do you balance finding hope in those moments while also remaining faithful to the devastation of those events?

RS: Sometimes, during dark and devastating moments, we discover a strength we never knew we had. I look for those threads of hope and resilience and try to weave them into my characters. As history illustrates, amidst war and oppression people still fall desperately in love and forge everlasting bonds through shared experience. That capacity to love is the very essence of being human, and I try to highlight that.

GR: Some of your readers might not be familiar with the historical events you write about. What's your process for creating empathy in your writing here?

RS: For me, creating empathy relies on the characters. If I can create a three-dimensional character that the reader feels attached to and cares for, they’ll walk beside them for hundreds of pages. They’ll share their hopes, dreams, and also their feelings of love and loss.

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GR: You mentioned that you like writing historical fiction because it's a little like being a detective. Are there any particular moments of discovery that stood out to you during your writing career?

RS: My third book, Salt to the Sea, tells the story of an evacuation during World War II and a ship that sinks with over 9,000 passengers on board. While researching that novel, I met with deep-sea divers who had explored the sunken ship.

Their descriptions, findings, and details were so incredibly vivid—they brought everything to life for me as if I was there. The information I discovered through the divers was both illuminating and terrifying.

GR: How do you narrow down your research so that you’re not following too many different threads?

RS: Once the book is published, I keep all of the research books and documents stacked in my office because I continue to reference them for events, meetings, and conversations. After a year or 15 months, I pack them together and take them up to the attic. There's a lot of hidden history for the mice up there!

GR: Which historical fiction books would you recommend to our young adult readers?

RS: There are so many wonderful historical novels for young readers, it’s hard to choose just a few: Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez, Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth E. Wein, and A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly.

GR: And finally, which books are currently keeping you company on your nightstand?

RS: I love mysteries and thrillers. During my last moments of consciousness at the end of the day, I'm currently treating myself to Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz and The Woman in Black by Susan Hill, two books recommended to me via Goodreads!

Ruta Sepetys' new novel, The Fountains of Silence, is available in the U.S. on October 1. Don't forget to add it to your Want to Read shelf. Be sure to also read more of our exclusive author interviews and get more great book recommendations.

Comments Showing 1-5 of 5 (5 new)

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message 1: by Khalid (new)

Khalid enice

Carole (in Canada) Loved your book 'Salt to the Sea'. This one certainly sounds just as compelling.

message 3: by MJ (new)

MJ This interview was very insightful. I love that she gave us recommendations too- they all look amazing!

message 4: by Dan (new)

Dan Thomas I enjoyed this interview. I read Salt to the Sea last year. She's a good writer.

message 5: by Oliver (new)

Oliver I am so glad I have found this post right on time. I am working on my critical essay about the novel “The Fountains of Silence” and I could not find any real interview with the author. I was even thinking about having my essay done by writer and was reading reviews like the edusson review. Thankfully, I came across this article. Now I believe I will be able to finish the essay myself.

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