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Cercas, Javier 1962–

Cercas, Javier 1962–

PERSONAL:

Born 1962, in Ibahernando, Cáceres, Spain.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Spain. Office—Universitat de Girona, Pl. Sant Domènec, 3, Girona 17071, Spain.

CAREER:

Writer, novelist, short story writer, and essayist. University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, faculty member, c. 1980s; Universitat de Girona, Girona, Spain, lecturer in Spanish literature, 1989—.

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.

WRITINGS:

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.

La velocidad de la luz, Tusquets Editores (Barcelona, Spain), 2005, translation by Anne McLean published as The Speed of Light, Bloomsbury (New York, NY), 2006.

La verdad de Agamenón: Crónicas, artiículos y un cuento, Tusquets Editores (Barcelona, Spain), 2006.

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 many 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, and 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 London 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."

Cercas's next novel, La velocidad de la luz, published as The Speed of Light, also received widespread acclaim from the critics. For example, Guardian contributor M. John Harrison called the novel "an intricate, male exploration of guilt, monsterhood and authenticity, the impossibility of redemption and the plausibility of self-forgiveness." Weaving fact and fiction and also a certain amount of autobiographical detail, Cercas tells the story of a graduate assistant at the University of Illinois (where the author once taught) who becomes friends with a coworker named Rodney Falk. A Vietnam veteran, Falk begins to confide in the narrator and eventually reveals that he was involved in a massacre of civilians while he served in the war. Meanwhile, the narrator, who goes on to become a famous novelist like Cercas, eventually begins to destroy his own life, especially through the guilt he feels over an accident that kills his wife and son. As he tries to rebuild his life, the narrator attempts to track down Falk years later with the intent of writing Falk's story. "In The Speed of Light, Cercas demonstrates that sophistication and sentiment are not mutually exclusive, and that history demands emotional engagement," wrote Natasha Wimmer in the New York Times Book Review, adding that the author "proves … that it is possible to delve into the tricky question of success without succumbing to hopeless narcissism." Writing in the Library Journal, Lawrence Olszewski commented that he was "amazed at this Spaniard's ability to write so vividly and hauntingly about the Vietnam War and … postbattle fatigue."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, March 1, 2007, Frank Sennett, review of The Speed of Light, p. 59.

Bookseller, April 30, 2004, "Cercas Wins Foreign Fiction Prize," p. 27; November 24, 2006, Josh Lacey, "Reading for Pleasure: Lacey, Guardian Writer and, Writing as Joshua Doder, Author of the Grk Childrens Books, Found Javier Cercas['s] The Speed of Light Complex and Fascinating," p. 20; June 15, 2007, Richard Lea, "Really Intense Tales," interview with author.

Guardian (London, England), June 21, 2003, Nick Caistor, review of Soldiers of Salamis, p. 28; December 9, 2006, M. John Harrison, review of The Speed of Light.

Houston Chronicle, April 11, 2004, Logan D. Browning, review of Soldiers of Salamis, p. 27.

Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2004, review of Soldiers of Salamis, p. 5; December 15, 2006, review of The Speed of Light, p. 1233.

Library Journal, November 15, 2006, Lawrence Olszewski, review of The Speed of Light, p. 54.

New York Times Book Review, June 3, 2007, Natasha Wimmer, "Parallel Paths," review of The Speed of Light.

Publishers Weekly, January 19, 2004, review of Soldiers of Salamis, p. 54; January 29, 2007, review of The Speed of Light, p. 40.

Times Literary Supplement, April 22, 2005, Martin Beagles, review of La velocidad de la luz, p. 8; December 15, 2006, Chris Moss, "The Spanish Gaze," p. 23.

World Literature Today, spring, 2002, Rosa Julia Bird, review of Soldiers of Salamis, p. 235; July-August, 2006, Rosa Julia Bird, review of La velocidad de la luz, p. 65.

ONLINE

Bloomsbury Web site,http://www.bloomsbury.com/ (August 10, 2004), "Javier Cercas."

Bookslut,http://www.bookslut.com/ (September 4, 2007), Drew Nellins, review of The Speed of Light.

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