Cercas, Javier 1962-
CERCAS, Javier 1962-
PERSONAL: Born 1962.
ADDRESSES: Offıce—Universitat de Girona, Pl. Sant Domènec, 3, 17071 Girona, Spain. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 38 Soho Square, London W1D 3HB, England.
AWARDS, HONORS: Premi Llibreter, 2001, Premi Ciutat de Barcelona, Premio de la Critica de Chile, Premio Salambó, Premio Qué Leer, Premio Extremadura, and Premio Grinzane-Cavour, all for Soldados de Salamina; Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, 2004, for Soldiers of Salamis.
El móvil (novel; title means "The Motive"), Sirmio (Barcelona, Spain), 1987, published with notes by Francisco Rico, Tusquets Editores (Barcelona, Spain), 2003.
El inquilino, Sirmio (Barcelona, Spain), 1989.
La obra literaria de Gonzalo Suárez, Quaderno Crema (Barcelona, Spain), 1993.
El vientre de la ballena, Tusquets Editores (Barcelona, Spain), 1997.
Una buena temporada, Editora Regional de Extremadura (Mérida, Spain), 1998.
Relato reales (title means "True Tales"), El Acantilado (Barcelona, Spain), 2000.
Soldados de Salamina (novel), Tusquets Editores (Barcelona, Spain), 2001, translation by Anne McLean published as Soldiers of Salamis, Bloomsbury (New York, NY), 2004.
(With David Trueba) Diálogos de Salamina: un paseo por el cine y la literatura, photographs by David Airob, Plot Ediciones (Madrid, Spain), 2003.
Contributor to El Páis.
ADAPTATIONS: Soldados de Salamina has been adapted for film by David Trueba, produced by Lolafilms/Fernando Trueba PC Production, 2003.
SIDELIGHTS: Fiction writer and essayist Javier Cercas published his first novel in 1987, but he became a best-selling author in Spain in 2001 with the novel Soldados de Salamina, which sold more than 500,000 copies in Europe and has been published in more than fifteen languages. Published in English in 2004 as Soldiers of Salamis, the novel has been hailed as an original work of fiction that delves into the nature of art and historical truth. As noted by a Kirkus Reviews contributor, the novel "is a strange and intriguing amalgam of epic, elegy, and mystery." Logan D. Browning, writing in the Houston Chronicle, called Soldiers of Salamis "hardly fiction, hardly history, hardly journalism and hardly sociology or psychology" but went on to note that it "should prove a remarkable resource for anyone interested in any of those disciplines or genres."
The theme of Cercas' book can partly be discovered through its title, which refers to the ancient battle of Salamina, in which invading Persian vessels were defeated. The ancient story has been rewritten and retold in many versions and from points of view. Likewise, the story recounted in Soldiers of Salamis, told through the pen of the narrator, aptly named Javier Cercas, a down-on-his-luck journalist and failed novelist living in modern-day Spain, has also been influenced by various perspectives and retellings. The events in the story take place about sixty years prior to the novel's opening and revolve around the Spanish Civil War, which lasted from 1936 to 1939. The narrator attempts to uncover the truth about the historical figure of Rafael Sanchez Mazas, a founder of the right-wing Falange Party of Spain that helped put dictator Francisco Franco in power in 1939. Soldiers of Salamis focuses on the narrator's growing obsession with Mazas's apparent escape from death twice in one day after he had been captured by the defeated Republican army, which subsequently ordered the execution of its nationalist prisoners as the army fled and disbanded. Not only does Mazas miraculously escape the firing squad, but also, when he later encounters a Republican army member, the soldier lets him go free without revealing to anyone that he has encountered Mazas.
After writing an article about the Spanish Civil War, the narrator becomes intrigued by letters to the publication's editor from people who offer leads to the identity of the unknown soldier. Cercas becomes obsessed with finding out if the legend is true and subsequently tries to hunt down the man who decided not to execute Mazas, who for a short time became a minister in Franco's postwar government. As the narrator continues on his quest to find the answers to who the soldier was and why he spared Mazas, he comes across more questions than answers before finally piecing together the puzzle and meeting the man who may or may not be the enigmatic soldier. Although the narrator insists that the story he is telling is true, he also explores "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," wrote Nick Caistor of the Manchester Guardian.
A Publishers Weekly contributor pointed out that "Europeans, deconstructionists and perhaps even fans of Paul Auster will be intrigued by this novel's air of literary detection." A critic writing in Kirkus Reviews commented that, in the end, the identity of the forgiving soldier "becomes much less interesting than the search itself" in a novel the reviewer described as "a beautiful account of loss and reconciliation." Rosa Julia Bird in World Literature Today called Soldiers of Salamis "a compelling and provocative novel. The simplicity of the basic story, which by itself would have only been another article in a journal or newspaper, is turned into a profound analysis of the intricacies of writing and being a writer." Although Browning wrote in the Houston Chronicle that the English translation does little to help the book's cause, the reviewer also noted that the novel "transcends" this fault, "pushing me to query and requery the goals and responsibilities of writing and writers and to celebrate the mystery of composition and creation that always remains at the heart of classic literature."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Guardian (Manchester, England), Nick Caistor, review of Soldiers of Salamis, p. 28.
Houston Chronicle, April 11, 2004, Logan D. Browning, review of Soldiers of Salamis, p. 27.
Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2004, review of Soldiers ofSalamis, p. 5.
Publishers Weekly, January 19, 2004, review of Soldiers of Salamis, p. 54.
World Literature Today, spring, 2002, Rosa Julia Bird, review of Soldiers of Salamis, p. 235.
Bloomsbury Web site,http://www.bloomsbury.com/ (August 10, 2004), "Javier Cercas."*