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Soldiers of Salamis (2001)

by Javier Cercas

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,0163814,033 (3.71)119
A compulsively readable and immensely moving 'true tale' of fiction

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» See also 119 mentions

English (23)  Spanish (5)  Italian (3)  French (2)  Catalan (2)  Danish (1)  German (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (38)
Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
Un libro sobre la guerra civil, y miren que no me suelen gustar los libros sobre la guerra civil. Pero éste es especial. Es la historia de un novelista que busca material para escribir una novela, que es precisamente la novela que acaba escribiendo y que tenemos en nuestras manos. Una novela profundamente autorreferencial en la que se mezclan las pesquisas del autor con las historias de la gente sobre la que investiga, los recuerdos de una guerra, la nuestra, en la que hubo, como en todas, muestras de lo mejor y lo peor (más de esto último) de lo que somos capaces los seres humanos.
El libro pivota sobre la figura de Sánchez Mazas, ideólogo de la Falange, consejero de José Antonio Primo de Rivera, padre de Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio y abuelo de Máximo Pradera (quien, por cierto, tiene un libro de música clásica que tiene que estar muy bien), y de sus andanzas durante la guerra. El propio Javier Cercas [JC] se convierte en un personaje de la novela, y nos cuenta, a medida que progresa la novela, lo bien que progresa la novela (si no progresara no podríamos seguir leyendo, claro está). Cuando parece que el periodista ha concluido su investigación sobre Sánchez Mazas aparece en escena el escritor chileno Roberto Bolaño, quien abre la puerta a la tercera y última parte de la novela, mucho más emocionante que las anteriores.
La novela entra de lleno en el estilo denominado Faction (Fact Fiction, hechos y ficción) por los anglosajones, que siempre tienen un nombre para todo. Se habla de personales reales (Ferlosio, Trapiello, Bolaño); consultando en las biografías de esos personajes reales parece ser que los datos que sobre ellos se cuentan en el libro son auténticos, y sin embargo sabemos que hay muchas otras cosas inventadas, pues hablamos de una novela. Precisamente creo que la historia más bonita (por así decirlo, pues en la guerra no hay nada bonito) de este libro es la inventada, como suele pasar. Y puede ser que alguno de ustedes, estimados lectores, me venga a contar (por favor, háganlo) que me han colado un gol por la escuadra y que en realidad, pongamos, Andrés Trapiello no existe sino que es una invención de JC. Tengo esa sensación de haber tomado por ciertos algunos datos que en realidad salieron de la cabeza del autor del libro.
Al final, uno no puede más que elogiar el trabajo de JC, quien ha construido una novela sobre el proceso de construcción de una novela sobre un corto episodio de la guerra civil. La novela es corta pero destila calidad por todos lados. No me queda más que quitarme el sombrero ante JC y mostrar mi admiración.
Mi nota: Impresionante. ( )
  Remocpi | Apr 22, 2020 |
I found Soldiers of Salamis an uncomfortable read. It explores a story from near the end of the Spanish Civil War, when a Falangist (Fascist) escaped execution in a forest and was not betrayed by a Republican soldier who found him hiding immediately after and did not reveal his presence. This is a scenario with lots of room for reflection on human values and the ethics of combat—but Cercas' exploration of the subject felt strangely devoid of such reflection.

The Falangist at the center of the story became a well-know poet and government official in the Franco regime. Cercas recounts the details of his life with care, but with little analysis. As a reader, I am, I admit, coming to this title with my own agenda, a conviction that the years of fascism were a stain upon the history of Spain, needing repudiation. Carcas' unwillingness to judge sat uncomfortably with me. This, paired with an opening and closing that reflected on Cercas' own life in ways that felt simultaneously revealing and impersonal left the book rudderless, floating on a sea that was one of the most tragic periods in Spain's history and content to float rather than to strike out in a more precise direction. ( )
  Sarah-Hope | Dec 14, 2019 |
Cercas is now established as a writer with a unique approach. Much like the work of Truman Capote and Tom Wolfe he fictionalizes real life events and characters. In Soldiers of Salamis he relates the story of the well known Falangist, Rafael Sanchez Mazas, " a good minor writer", who served as an apologist and propagandist for the Franco regime. In the last days of the Spanish Civil War, escaping from a firing squad his life is spared by an unknown Republican militiaman.

Cercas sets out to write about Mazas but his book hits a roadblock and it is only after he interviews the novelist Roberto Bolano that his imagination is reawakened by Bolano's recounting of a Republican fighter he had once known several years ago. Cercas takes out after this man, Miralles, who turns out to be one of the unsung heroes of both the Spanish Civil war and World War II. The book is ultimately about both writing stories and heroes.

Familiar with Cercas from his lesser known work, The Anatomy of A Moment, his work is engrossing and highly entertaining. He is able to describe real life events with a novelist's talent and imagination. ( )
  berthirsch | Mar 25, 2019 |
A highly-celebrated work, though I had to wonder why - perhaps my understanding of Spanish history is not sufficient to appreciate the deeper aspects of this historical work. The whole story is outlined early on, and though there are expansions to the structure offered in the remainder of the book, I didn't feel like I gained much for the reading. ( )
  soylentgreen23 | Aug 20, 2017 |
I read this book so as to teach it in my Contemporary Lit & Film of Spain course. I expected it to be a left-leaning recounting of the Spanish Civil War, which in a certain sense it is, undoubtedly. However, I found the book to be less of a mourning for the loss of the 2a República and more of a meditation on both obsession and compassion. Unfortunately, the metafictional element leads the book into somewhat self-congratulatory territory, but this is only a venal sin in the light of the general mastery with which Cercas tells his story. Read, read, read... Preferably with Wikipedia alongside for those uninitiated into Spanish Civil War minutiae. Also, look up the Law of Historical Memory passed in Spain in 2007. I'm sure books such as this one contributed profoundly to its ultimate passing. ( )
  voncookie | Jun 30, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
The Spanish civil war is staggering to its inevitable conclusion. After the fall of Barcelona, the remnants of the Republican army flee towards the French border. An order comes for them to execute their nationalist prisoners, among them Sanchez Mazas, one of the ideologues whose inflamed rhetoric brought catastrophe to Spain in the first place.

Some 50 of the prisoners are lined up. Mazas hears the shots but, realising he has only been wounded, escapes into the woods. He is discovered by a republican militiaman, who stares him in the face, and then spares his life, shouting to his companions that there is no one there. For several days, the Falange leader hides out in the forests, helped by some deserters from the Republican side, and then is rescued by Franco's troops. He is received as a hero, and feted throughout the newly nationalist country.

He is made a minister in the first Franco government, but quickly becomes disillusioned with the grubbiness of everyday politics, so far from his early high poetic ideals. He inherits money, and lives out his days as a frustrated writer, pursued by dreams of glory and heroism, so lacking in his own life.

Mazas's story is the central panel of Javier Cercas's tryptich. In the first part, we meet the narrator, also called "Javier Cercas", who disarmingly admits from the start that he is a failure as husband and writer. He hears of the story of Sanchez Mazas from the Falangist's son, and the fact that he has just lost his own father sets him on a journey to rescue the forgotten writer from oblivion, in the hope that he might also rescue his own career.

The narrator is fascinated by the way memory congeals into history: the insidious process by which personal narratives become part of a past that can no longer be verified, and is therefore taken to be the truth, even though it is only one possible version of what actually happened. As Cercas points out, the events of the Spanish civil war, which took place only a generation earlier, are becoming as distant and fixed as the story of the soldiers who fought the Persian fleet at Salamis more than 2,000 years earlier.

The narrator is at pains to stress that he is telling a "true story". But from the very outset of Soldiers of Salamis it is plain that this is a literary quest, the hope being that the fictional invention will be more convincing in the end than any biographical memoir. A vital part of the attempt to keep the past as living memory rather than dead history is to investigate individual motives, and the story of Mazas revolves around a central question: what exactly makes a hero? Is it someone like Mazas, who proclaims the glory of violence and the need for radical change, but never actually fights for it; or is heroism something different entirely?

Cercas's response comes in the third section of the novel. This is an account of how the narrator manages to track down the person who might have been the republican militiaman who spared Mazas's life. This man, Antoni Miralles, will not say straight out whether he was the man or not. But talking to him in an old people's home on the outskirts of Dijon, in France, the narrator becomes convinced he is the real hero, "someone who has courage and an instinct for virtue, and therefore never makes a mistake, or at least doesn't make a mistake the one time when it matters, and therefore can't not be a hero".

The book ends with the narrator triumphantly certain that, whether or not Miralles was the man in question, on the level of his own fiction he is the perfect fit to help "complete the mechanism" of his book, and in so doing rescue from oblivion all the "soldiers of Salamis" - the warriors who were heroes despite knowing they were fighting an already lost cause.

Cercas's book has created a sensation in Spain. Whereas in Britain it is easy enough to know who the heroes were - the ones who fought and defeated fascism - the situation in Spain is very different. Not only was the country split in two during the civil war, but there followed 40 years of rule by one side that sought to deny any virtues to its adversaries. As Cercas tells us, "there is a monument to the war dead in every town in Spain. How many have you seen with, at the very least, the names of the fallen from both sides?"

Yet at the same time, Franco and his supporters "won the war but lost the history of literature". Internationally, it is the republicans who are seen as heroes, whether the writer is Hemingway, Orwell or André Malraux. In the end, Soldiers of Salamis remains firmly in this tradition, while offering a gentle and often moving reassertion that individual lives and actions matter most, however overwhelming the historical circumstances may seem.

Nick Caistor is the translator of Juan MarsË's Lizard Tails.
added by thegeneral | editThe Guardian, Nick Caistor (Jun 21, 2003)
Este libro, que se jacta tanto de no fantasear, de ceñirse a lo estrictamente comprobado, en verdad transpira literatura por todos sus poros. Los literatos ocupan en él un puesto clave, aunque no figuren en el libro como literatos, sino en forma de circunstanciales peones que, de manera casual, disparan en la mente del narrador la idea de contar esta historia, de hacerla avanzar, o la manera de cerrarla. La inicia Sánchez Ferlosio, revelándole el episodio del fusilamiento de su padre, y, cuando está detenida y a punto de naufragar, la relanza Roberto Bolaño, hablando a Javier Cercas del fabuloso Antoni Miralles, en quien aquél cree identificar, por un pálpito que todo su talento narrativo está a punto de convertir en verdad fehaciente en las últimas páginas del libro, al miliciano anónimo que perdonó la vida a Sánchez Mazas. Este dato escondido queda allí, flotando en el vacío, a ver si el lector se atreve a ir más allá de lo que fue el narrador, y decide que, efectivamente, la milagrosa coincidencia tuvo lugar, y fue Miralles, combatiente de mil batallas, miliciano republicano en España, héroe anónimo de la columna Leclerc en los desiertos africanos y compañero de la liberación en Francia, el oscuro soldadito que, en un gesto de humanidad, salvó la vida al señorito escribidor falangista convencido de que, a lo largo de la historia, siempre un pelotón de soldados 'había salvado la civilización'.
added by Alguien | editEl País, Mario Vargas Llosa (Sep 3, 2001)

» Add other authors (23 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Javier Cercasprimary authorall editionscalculated
Carelli, WagnerTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
סערי, רמיTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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'The gods desire to keep the stuff of life Hidden from us', Hesiod, 'Works and days'.
For Raül Cercas and Mercè Mas
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It was the summer of 1994, more than six years ago now, when I first heard about Rafael Sánchez Mazas facing the firing squad.
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