Friday, April 24, 2020

Q&A with Ruta Sepetys

Ruta Sepetys, photo by Magda Starowieyska
Ruta Sepetys is the author most recently of The Fountains of Silence, a novel for young adults and adults. Her other books include Between Shades of Gray and Salt to the Sea. She lives in Tennessee.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Fountains of Silence?

A: While touring in Spain for my first novel, Between Shades of Gray, I learned more about the country's history under Franco. I was incredibly inspired by the resilience of Spain.

The Franco period is not often studied in the U.S. and I wanted to share the underrepresented history with others. 

Q: The novel is set in Spain in 1957. How important is setting to you in your writing, and how did you research this book?

A: The setting and specific time period of the 1950s was very important because it represented a very unique chapter within the historical relationship of the United States and Spain. 

I took several trips to Spain and toured various parts of the country. I rented an apartment in Madrid and set out each morning trying to walk the path of the characters I was creating.

Each day was different. I explored Vallecas, the area where Ana's family is from. I spent time in the master tailor's shop, learning about the intricate process to create a suit of lights. I visited the old Inclusa, the orphanage, and interviewed a retired doctor who had worked there for decades. I attended a meeting in Madrid with adults who are associated with the children allegedly stolen during the regime. I interviewed many people and read countless books for research.

Some of the most fascinating research was exploring the hotel property where much of the story is set. The hotel was formerly a palace and some elements (like the courtyard fountain, the ballroom, and marble hearths) are still original to the palace. A hotel is a house of secrets! I then wove details from my research experience into the story. 

Q: In a review of the book on NPR, Caitlin Paxson said that "above all else, this is a story about how to love something that has been broken but can be put back together again." What do you think of that description?

A: I think that's accurate. Often, it's in our broken moments that we truly find ourselves. We discover that we're capable of more than we ever imagined. And at that moment, our priorities—along with what we want and don't want—become very clear. 

Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?

A: I hope readers might decide that it's an important period to study for several reasons: 

• To understand fascist ideology and to be able to compare and contrast Franco's Spanish fascism with other fascist (and totalitarian) regimes. 

• To understand the Herculean task Spain faced when transitioning to democracy in 1975 after spending 36 years under a dictatorship. Understanding Spain's past will give context to the present and facilitate informed discourse and respectful exchange. 

• To support the people who are still in search of their true identity and family narrative. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I'm currently working on a book set in Bucharest during the Romanian revolution. I can't wait to share it with readers! 

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I'm always looking for suggestions of interesting topics and time periods to write about. If you have one, send it my way! 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Ruta Sepetys.

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