The Anatomy of a Moment: Thirty-Five Minutes in History and Imagination

Overview

In February 1981, Spain was still emerging from Franco's shadow, holding a democratic vote for the new prime minister. On the day of the vote in Parliament, while the session was being filmed by TV cameras, a band of right-wing soldiers burst in with automatic weapons, ordering everyone to get down. Only three men defied the order. For thirty-five minutes, as the cameras rolled, they stayed in their seats.

Critically adored novelist Javier Cercas originally set out to write a ...

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The Anatomy of a Moment: Thirty-five Minutes in History and Imagination

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Overview

In February 1981, Spain was still emerging from Franco's shadow, holding a democratic vote for the new prime minister. On the day of the vote in Parliament, while the session was being filmed by TV cameras, a band of right-wing soldiers burst in with automatic weapons, ordering everyone to get down. Only three men defied the order. For thirty-five minutes, as the cameras rolled, they stayed in their seats.

Critically adored novelist Javier Cercas originally set out to write a novel about this pivotal moment, but determined it had already gained an air of myth, or, through the annual broadcast of video clips, had at least acquired the fictional taint of reality television. Cercas turned to nonfiction, and his vivid descriptions of the archival footage frame a narrative that traverses the line between history and art, creating a daring new account of this watershed moment in modern Spanish history.

The Anatomy of a Moment caused a sensation upon its publication in Spain, selling hundreds of thousands of copies. The story will be new to many American readers, but the book stands resolutely on its own as a compelling literary inquest of national myth, personal memory, political spectacle, and reality itself.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The details and larger historic significance of the February 23, 1981, failed military coup "to protect" the Spanish monarchy against Spain's frail democracy continue to be elusive. This tour de force by Cercas brings all his novelist skills to bear as he probes an event not well-known to American readers. For those with a memory of the personages and events described, this book is definitive. Originally conceived as a novel to contain all the mythic dimensions of a fascist coup given additional life via the media (TV cameras captured the spectacle), this account's most striking aspect is the group portrait of the politicians and military personnel involved. Exiting prime minister Adolfo Suárez, handed the reins by his king five years before, is portrayed by turns as a JFK wannabe, a centrist phony, a stooge, an errand boy. Three-dimensional portraits are also painted of other big players, including Gen. Manuel Gutiérrez Mellado and the Communist Santiago Carrillo. Adding pained reflections on his father, a supporter of Suárez, Cercas conveys the complex levels of cronyism and the collective paranoia of post-Franco Spain as well as a study of modern European political power during the winding down of the cold war. (Feb.)
From the Publisher
El País Book of the Year  •  El Mundo Nonfiction Book of the Year  •  Winner of the Terenci Moix Award for Nonfiction

“One of the key works of Spanish language literature of our time” —Alberto Manguel

“The best history book of the year.” —Felipe Fernández-Armesto, Times Literary Supplement

 “A masterpiece of twenty-first century European literature.” —Jordi Gracia, El País

 “One of Spain's best younger novelists... Mr Cercas has written a persuasive, brilliant and absorbing book that has more contemporary resonance than even he might have imagined.” Economist

 

 “In this remarkable work of nonfiction, Cercas obsessively reconstructs the attempted coup in Spain on February 23, 1981, in which Lieutenant Colonel Antonio Tejero and a cohort of armed Civil Guards stormed into congress, holding it hostage.... Cercas writes that he originally tried to fictionalize the event and turn it into 'a strange experimental The Three Musketeers'; that's exactly how the book turned out, and didn't have to fictionalize a thing.” New Yorker

 

"When the historical going gets tough, as it invariably does here, Cercas the novelist gently leaves all the facts where Cercas the essayist found them, and creates by their side a kind of simulacrum of the moment—more supple and analytically pliable, capable of showing us more even if what we’re looking at is ever so slightly different from the original…" Nation

“[A] tour de force... For those with a memory of the personages and events described, this book is definitive. … Cercas conveys the complex levels of cronyism and the collective paranoia of post-Franco Spain as well as a study of modern European political power during the winding down of the cold war.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Cercas provides a creatively imagined account of an event that should be instructive to students of evolutionary democracy... [A] dense narrative, but those who stick with it will become immersed in its near-hypnotic power.”  Kirkus Reviews

 

“Enthralling… Cercas is a masterly storyteller… the book is rich with vivid images, paradox and action… He forces us to abandon the fiction, the legends of the coup, and look at the pictures and story anew in all their complexity.” —Independent

“With this book… Cercas is not only writing a scrupulous, truthful account of the failed coup, he is helping to bring the tormented story of the Spanish Civil War to its conclusion at last. His subtle intelligence, narrative gifts and intellectual honesty are outstanding.” —Telegraph

“Part detective story, part social history, [The Anatomy of a Moment], with its regressions and suppositions, reads like one of the best pieces of contemporary European literature we've been lucky enough to have translated into English… a remarkably compelling book.” —The Awl

“A fascinating book. For those interested in Spanish history, and for those interested in a different approach to the novel, it proposes some intriguing questions.” —QuarterlyConversation.com

“A brilliant reconfiguring of a key event in contemporary European history. Audacious and wholly fascinating.”  — William Boyd, author of Any Human Heart and Restless

Kirkus Reviews

An intricately fashioned blow-by-blow account of the 1981 coup d'etat in Spain.

Spanish novelist Cercas (The Speed of Light, 2006, etc.) originally wrote a novel about the attempted coup of Feb. 23, 1981, an event in which the pistol-waving Lt. Col. Antonio Tejero and his Francoist Guardia Civil burst into the Congress of Deputies on national television and hijacked the elected parliamentarians until the next day. Frustrated by the myriadconflicting takes on the coup—was its failure a triumph of the fledgling democracy just getting on its feet after the death of the dictator Francisco Franco, or did it spell a collapse of democracy since no one raised much of a voice in opposition?—the author turned his obsession of the golpe de estado into this deeply reflective investigative work. The book is so close to its subject that it requires some knowledge of recent Spanish political history. The day of the coup, the deputies were voting to approve a new prime minister, after the resignation of Adolfo Suárez, whose crisis-plagued five-year term had followed Franco's death in 1975. Curiously, only Suárez remained in his seat (as the other deputies cowered under their chairs), while his deputy prime minister, Gen. Gutierrez Mellado, confronted thegolpistas. Cercas sifts scrupulously through the "shimmering labyrinth" of evidence and offers some plausible motivation for the coup. The economy was in a tailspin, and the unrepentant Francoists had been itching for a change of course since Suárez took power. The Basque separatist movement, the ETA, had destabilized the army through terrorism, and several members of the Spanish intelligence service collaborated with the coup leaders. The king, however, quickly put the military officers in line, and thegolpistasbacked down without bloodshed. Cercas provides a creatively imagined account of an event that should be instructive to students of evolutionary democracy.

Many American readers may struggle with the dense narrative, but those who stick with it will become immersed in its near-hypnotic power.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781608194919
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 2/15/2011
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 1,459,555
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Javier Cercas is the author of Soldiers of Salamis, The Tenant & The Motive and The Speed of Light. He has taught at the University of Illinois and for many years was a lecturer in Spanish literature at the University of Gerona. He lives in Barcelona with his wife and son.

Anne McLean is the translator of works by Carmen Martín Gaite, Julio Cortázar, Ignacio Martínez de Pisón and Tomás Eloy Martínez. She has twice won the Independent Prize for Foreign Fiction: for Soldiers of Salamis by Javier Cercas in 2004 (which also won her the Valle Inclán Award), and for The Armies by Evelio Rosero in 2009.

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Table of Contents

Prologue. Epilogue to a novel 1

Part 1 The placenta of the coup 17

Part 2 A golpista confronts the coup 83

Part 3 A revolutionary confronts the coup 149

Part 4 All the coups of the coup 213

Part 5 Viva Italia! 285

Epilogue. Prologue to a novel 361

Bibliography 385

Notes 389

Acknowledgements 405

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