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Soldiers of Salamis Paperback – 2 Aug 2004

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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (2 Aug. 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747568235
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747568230
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.5 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 99,572 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'A truly wonderful, magnificent novel. It is understanding, intelligent, compassionate ... If you were required to read only one book about Spain and its civil war, this should be that book' Allan Massie, Scotsman 'A classic novel ... about the filtration of war's tragedies through memory and myth' Independent 'Very few novels have the power to alter received opinion, but this marvellous book may well be one ... A remarkable book' Sunday Telegraph 'This is an important, fresh and original book ... Above all, it demonstrates how eloquent and exciting fiction is still capable of being' Irish Times

About the Author

Javier Cercas was born in 1962. He is a novelist, short story writer and essayist, whose books include El Vientrede la ballena (The Belly of the Whale, 1997) and Relatos Reales (True Tales, 2000). He has taught at the University of Illinois and since 1989 has been a lecturer in Spanish literature at the University of Gerona.

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44 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on 21 Mar. 2004
Format: Hardcover
In this unusual story of the Spanish Civil War, author Cercas experiments with the voice of his main character and with the form of this novel, which he describes as "a compressed tale except with real characters and situations, like a true tale." The unnamed speaker, a contemporary journalist in his forties, is investigating the story of Rafael Sanchez Mazas, a "good, not great" writer of the 1930s, who, in the final days of the Civil War (1936 - 1939) escaped a firing squad and lived to play a role in Franco's Nationalist government. The speaker believes that "forest friends" may have helped Sanchez Mazas survive the end-of-the-war turmoil, and he becomes obsessed with locating them, identifying the Popular front soldier who chose not to reveal Sanchez Mazas's whereabouts, and learning why they behaved as they did. As he investigates the story of Sanchez Mazas and the complex political alliances of the Civil War, the speaker realizes that he actually knows very little about this war, "not much more than I know about the battle of Salamis."
The speaker, who is obviously Javier Cercas himself, soon begins to expand the scope of his tale, investigating more than the verifiable facts about Sanchez Mazas and musing philosophically about the passage of time, the transcience of youth, the dubious legacy of war, and the nature of heroes. Wartime heroes live only as long as their friends remember them, and lives and memories are short: one must seize the moment and dance a paso doble in the time available.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Eileen Shaw TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 24 Nov. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A story of warfare and an extraordinary escape from a firing squad by Sanchez Mazas, and his debt to one man, who as he hid himself beneath the mud and grit of a stream, was seen by one of the men searching for him; this man could have killed him, their eyes met, and he did not shoot, instead he shouted to his fellow soldiers, "There's no one over here." And Sanchez escaped death. Javier Cercas, who came across this story, at first doubted it, but as he searched for the people who might yet be alive to confirm or deny it, he found it could well be true.

There was authentification in a rough diary kept by another man, one of the three soldiers who met up with Mazas he waited to be reunited with the Nationalist troops who were now victorious. His three compatriots, however, were bent on trying to cross the border from Spain to France as they were Republicans. As Cercas was investigating the story he found Mazas's helpers were still alive. I had to do a lot of background reading to try and sort out the extraordinarily deep confusions of the different Spanish configurations taking part in the war. Sanchez Mazas was a falangist, a notable figure, and a supporter of the Nationalists, who later came together to form the government under General Franco. Mazas was also a confirmed Fascist, a member of the falange movement which was instrumental in instigating the war. On the other side were a variety of other political idealogues, including Communists (including some Russian forces), Republicans of various different factions, Anarchists and the members of the Popular Front. In the closing moments of the war there was chaos, which is how a fascist Nationalist came to escape death and then take refuge with a local farmer, and from there make his way to safety.
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Format: Paperback
Essentially two stories in one novel. One focuses on the career of Sanchez Mazas, a minor poet and founding member of the right wing Falangist movement who managed to escape a mass shooting towards the end of war. The second from the perspective of the novelist Cercas and how he discovers the story of Mazas' amazing escape and his investigation and compilation the story.

This leaves the novel a bit disjointed and the story of Mazas probably does not warrant that much attention, as the most noteworthy aspect of it is the execution escape. Even Franco's post war government was quick to make his cabinet position redundant. The section concerning Cercas, his girlfriend, the meals he has with various interviewees and his meeting Roberto Balano is enjoyable, but doesn't really provide much of an insight to the lasting impact of the civil war.

It is not as good as Hemmingway's "For Whom the Bell Tolls", despite the claims made on cover. I would also recommend Giles Tremlett's "Ghosts of Spain" for good insight on how the past has impacted on modern Spain.
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27 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Barton Keyes on 26 April 2004
Format: Hardcover
I hesitate to use the words "probably the best book I have ever read" but this is probably one of the best books I have ever read. It is outstanding in every aspect -- use of language, construction, pace, insight. I have no way of ascertaining if the original Spanish is as good as the translation but I cannot believe that such a superlative book was not written superlatively well to begin with.
If you think, as I did, that the middle section drags slightly - stick with it. There is a very good reason that is explained soon into the third and final part. You will be well rewarded if you do so.
Occasionally you read a book where the final sentence makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. The final page of Soldiers of Salamis did that for me.
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