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Soldaten van Salamis by Javier Cercas
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Soldaten van Salamis (original 2001; edition 2003)

by Javier Cercas (Author), Adri Boon (Translator)

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8743415,352 (3.7)107
Member:jebronse
Title:Soldaten van Salamis
Authors:Javier Cercas (Author)
Other authors:Adri Boon (Translator)
Info:Breda De Geus cop. 2003
Collections:Read but unowned
Rating:***
Tags:roman, Spaans, historisch

Work details

Soldiers of Salamis by Javier Cercas (2001)

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English (20)  Spanish (5)  Italian (3)  French (2)  Danish (1)  Dutch (1)  Catalan (1)  German (1)  All languages (34)
Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
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 |
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. ( )
  anna_hiller | Jun 22, 2016 |
I enjoyed this novel (true tale) but haven't much to say about it. I was particularly intrigued when Cercas or the character named Cercas meets up with the Chilean writer Roberto Bolano or the character named Roberto Bolano, who is living in exile in Spain. After interviewing Bolano, Cercas shifts his quest from investigating the writer Sanchez Manzas (chief rhetorician of the Falange that instigated the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s) to seeking out Miralles, pasa doble aficionado & possibly the Republican soldier or volunteer who spared Manzas's life when the losing Republican forces were in retreat at the end of the war & executing fascist prisoners such as Manzas. The character Cercas is throughout writing the novel Soldiers of Salamis. ( )
  Paulagraph | May 25, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 20 (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
סערי, רמיTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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'The gods desire to keep the stuff of life Hidden from us', Hesiod, 'Works and days'.
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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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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0747568235, Paperback)

In the final moments of the Spanish Civil War, fifty prominent Nationalist prisoners are executed by firing squad. Among them is the writer and fascist Rafael Sanchez Mazas. As the guns fire, he escapes into the forest, and can hear a search party and their dogs hunting him down. The branches move and he finds himself looking into the eyes of a militiaman, and faces death for the second time that day. But the unknown soldier simply turns and walks away. Sanchez Mazas becomes a national hero and the soldier disappears into history. As Cercas sifts the evidence to establish what happened, he realises that the true hero may not be Sanchez Mazas at all, but the soldier who chose not to shoot him. Who was he? Why did he spare him? And might he still be alive?

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:06 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

A journalist investigates what happened to Rafael Snchez Mazas, a founder of Franco's Falangist movement, when he narrowly escaped being shot while a prisoner of fleeing Republicans at the end of the Spanish Civil War.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 2 descriptions

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