Spain's best-selling book of the year-an award-winning, wholly original and absorbing work of fiction by a modern master, at whose heart lies an investigation into the nature of historical truth.

In the final moments of the Spanish Civil War, fifty prominent Nationalist prisoners face a firing squad. Among them is Rafael Sánchez Mazas-writer, fascist, and founder of the Spanish Falange. As the machine guns begin to fire, Sánchez Mazas escapes into the forest. When a militiaman ...

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Soldiers of Salamis

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Spain's best-selling book of the year-an award-winning, wholly original and absorbing work of fiction by a modern master, at whose heart lies an investigation into the nature of historical truth.

In the final moments of the Spanish Civil War, fifty prominent Nationalist prisoners face a firing squad. Among them is Rafael Sánchez Mazas-writer, fascist, and founder of the Spanish Falange. As the machine guns begin to fire, Sánchez Mazas escapes into the forest. When a militiaman discovers his hiding place, Sánchez Mazas faces death for the second time that day. But the unknown soldier simply turns and walks away. Sánchez Mazas becomes a national hero and ultimately a minister in Franco's first government. The soldier disappears into history.

Sixty years later, as Cercas sifts through the evidence to establish what really happened, he realizes that the true hero may not be the one who was celebrated, but, rather, the soldier who chose not to shoot. Who was he? Why did he spare Sánchez Mazas? Every answer Cercas uncovers leads to another question in this powerful and elegantly constructed novel about truth, memory, and war.

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
Soldiers of Salamis is a journey into the heart of a mystery that becomes more and more mystifying, a journey away from cynicism into empathy and awe. At a time when leaders too easily slip into a hero's garb, this novel has much to say about the sorrows and ambiguities of being the real thing. — Elizabeth Gold
Publishers Weekly
Spanish journalist and novelist Cercas strives for a "true tale" in his first book to be published in the U.S., the story of a political prisoner during the Spanish Civil War who cheated death twice in one day. Narrated by a Spanish journalist also called Javier Cercas, the novel is the chronicle of his quest to uncover a story as slippery and charmed as its protagonist, Rafael S nchez Mazas, a founder of the fascistic Spanish Falange, who became a minister without portfolio in Franco's postwar government. Before rising to his position of power, however, S nchez Mazas was captured by a group of Republicans and marched into the woods along with his comrades to be executed; moments after his daring flight, "an anonymous defeated soldier" spied him but said nothing. The facts of this fascist writer's miraculous escape quickly became legend, aided in no small part by the oral and written efforts of S nchez Mazas himself. Sixty years later, Cercas, an inadvertent archeologist digging through his nation's bloody past, unearths revelations and epiphanies that are far less wondrous than the surface gloss, but much more useful to present-day existence. His thematic conclusions are powerful and humane enough to compensate for a narrative voice that is often speculative or long-winded. This work sometimes suffers from a scarcity of scenes and dialogue, but its moral core is smart and compelling. (Feb.) Forecast: Europeans, deconstructionists and perhaps even fans of Paul Auster will be intrigued by this novel's air of literary detection. It should appeal to would-be writers, too; Cercas's metafiction is insightful and sometimes funny ("Shit!" a friend says to the character Cercas. "Didn't I tell you not to write about a fascist? Those people fuck up everything they touch. What you have to do is forget all about that book and start on another one. How about one on Garc a Lorca?") rather than theoretical and hollow. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Cercas's US debut is a strange and intriguing amalgam of epic, elegy, and mystery about a journalist's efforts to uncover the story behind a soldier's quasi-miraculous escape from firing squad in the Spanish Civil War. How much of the tale is fiction, many readers will ask, since most of the characters are historical figures and the narrator, like the author, is a Spanish writer named Javier Cercas-but never mind all that. We begin with a broken-down journalist in a provincial town who has written a few novels that flopped and is depressed because his father has died and his wife has left him. While researching an article commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Spanish Civil War, Javier hears an interesting legend and works it into the piece: Nationalist hero Rafael Sanchez Mazas, founder of the right-wing Falange Party and onetime cabinet minister under Franco, was once captured by leftist troops, shot by firing squad-and survived. Not only that, but afterward, making his way across enemy lines, he was discovered and recognized by a Communist guerrilla: an unknown militiaman who deliberately let him get away. Among the usual letters to the editor after the article is published, Javier receives contradictory leads as to the true identity of the soldier, and he becomes increasingly intrigued. He tracks down the son of a Communist partisan who sheltered Sanchez Mazas during his escape and discovers a notebook kept by the escapee describing his ordeal. Eventually, he pieces together an account of Sanchez Mazas's exploits during the last days of the war, and he finally meets the man whom he believes spared his life. But is it really him? It doesn't matter-like the sled in Citizen Kane, theman in the forest (whoever he was) eventually becomes much less interesting than the search itself. Cercas's lyric intensity becomes quite moving (especially toward the end) in a beautiful account of loss and reconciliation.
Alberto Manguel
"Cercas has succeeded, with one perfectly crafted book, in single-handedly redeeming the epic genre."
Houston Chronicle
"A remarkable resource. Cercas perfectly captures the uncanny ways in which a story evolves."
Los Angeles Times
"Gripping and also a tear-jerker in the best sense of the word. Soldiers of Salamis strikes a chord in any country or individual with ghosts to face."
Time Out New York
"Cercas unravels a breathtaking ''true story'' that encompasses lessons of war and writing, historic truth and heroism."
Washington Post
"A haunting and provocative book about history, memory, and the elusive nature of heroism. Funny, moving, and surprising."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781596917378
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 12/10/2008
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 231,613
  • File size: 763 KB

Meet the Author

Javier Cercas was born in 1962. He is a novelist, short-story writer, and essayist. He has taught at the University of Illinois and since 1989 has been a lecturer at the University of Gerona in Spain. Soldiers of Salamis is his first book to be published in the United States. It has already been published in fifteen languages around the world, and the film adaptation by David Trueba debuted at Cannes in May 2003.

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