The miseries of men

Javier Cercas’ novel, Soldados de Salamina (Soldiers of Salamis) takes a double risk: inscribe in the literature on the Spanish Civil War the place of the “bad guys” and write a war story without heroism.

Cercas organize the story from the construction of the image of a character: Rafael Sánchez Mazas, poet and ideologist of the Spanish Phalanx and close collaborator of José Antonio Primo de Rivera (Spanish politician who founded the Fascist Falange Española or “Spanish Phalanx”). Cercas take the risk of writing about a fascist.

With this writing position, Cercas chooses to tell the story of the war without the heroic tales of victory or defeat. Adopt the look of an anonymous and defeated soldier.

In Soldados de Salamina, the Spanish Civil War is ending and the national troops are moving towards Catalonia. Republican troops withdraw, sweeping bridges and communication roads to protect their withdrawal. Sánchez Mazas is imprisoned in Barcelona, ​​and manages to escape a collective execution. Cercas chooses to speak from the place of the survivor and make an inventory of his author’s footprints without grandiloquent tones.

Cercas appropriates the will to make a book by Sánchez Maza and talks about the contradictions and ghosts that no one can name. Choose a figure outside its field.

The reality that the book exposes is that of the people who, unlike the Rafael Sánchez Mazas from whom history is plagued, do not glorify the war or the proposal as the panacea of ​​social miseries, nor do they believe that the truth of the Philosophy is in the mouth of a rifle.

The great character of the book of Cercas is the warrior of good causes by chance, a hero without wanting to or knowing it, who, disfigured by a mine after spending a life battling, survives as a prisoner in a nursing home of bad death, interrupted by a novelist determined to see epic and chivalrous gestures where the old warrior only remembers routine, hunger, insecurity, and the neighborhood of death.

The narrator of Soldados de Salamina insists that what counts is not a novel but “a true story.” The truth is another: Soldiers of Salamis is the story of his writing, the misadventures of his narrator. In this sense, Cercas deals with the memory of the witnesses and replaces his word in the legal memory. The author organizes “a real story”, an inventory of reactions and personal feelings. Underground memories of soldiers become hungry characters, orphans of political convictions, defeated and fed up with war. Cercas moves away from a militant literature in terms of a speech mobilized in the name of a cause and accounts for the experience of war from the minimum, from the construction of almost unverifiable scenes in terms of historical documents.

Javier Cercas

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