The Impostor by Javier Cercas

 

The Impostor by Javier Cercas

Spanish Non-Fiction

Original title – El Impostor

Translator – Frank Wynne

Source – review copy

Well, a change from German lit month for a book from one of my favourite Spanish writers of recent years. Javier Cercas has featured on the blog three times before. This is his latest book to be translated. He has won the Iffp prize in the past.Also has been the Impac Dublin book prize longlist a couple of times. This book is rather like his earlier book Anatomy of a moment as it uses an actual historical event as the start of the book. This is a look at one man Enric Marco. He was thought to be a champion of the Unions with a history of fighting fascism a survivor of the Nazi death camps and opposed Franco.

On May 11 2005, the truth was discovered: Enric Mrco was an impostor. For the previous twenty-seven years Marco had claimed to be prisoner No. 6448 from German conce/ntration camp Flossenburg: He had lived this lie and had to made it live: for almost three decades, Marco gave hundreds of talks about his experiences of the Nazi regime, he was president of the Amical de Mauthausen, the association of Spanish survivors of Nazi camps, he was awarded notable honours and medals and on January 27 2005, he moved many members of both houses of the Spanish parliment to tears ..

He spoke so well on what wasn’t his life but anothers .

The book begins at the point when in 2005 He was unmasked as a fake.Cercas met him four years after that but it wasn’t until a few years later he decides to try and find the truth behind the man and his story. Marco is an enigma as the first part of the story shows called Onion skins like Gunter Grass whose biography is called Peeling the onion. We peel the layers away from the man and his story. The time Marco choose to invent his history is about write a time when people could still make up a past if they wanted. He is a man that wanted to be more than he was. He wanted to be a hero also a champion of the underdog. But as he rose in the public eye the lies he had told became harder to hide.He had been in a German Prison. He went to Germany as a worker not a prisoner from the republic. when he was in the civil war he went to France and was arrested as a criminal, not to a death camp.He rose to be the leader of the Spanish organisation for prisoners of the death camps and their families. it was just as they were to celebrate sixty years as the story of his deception broke he wasn’t in the camp he said he was and his story starts to unfold.

Marco was born in an asylum ; his mother was insane.Is he mad too? is this his secret, the condrum that explains his personality? is this why he always sided with the majority ? Does this explain everything, or does it at least explain the essentials ? And if Marco truly is mad, what is thhe nature of his madness.

Now, this is a great piece of narrative non-fiction like his earlier book Anatomy of a moment. Cercas has chosen a historic event to explore his own countries past, but this through one man’s journey.This book is around maybe at just  the right time. We are so interested in real life tales with the podcast like S town and serial. There is a saying that truth is often stranger than fiction and Enric Marco is an example. He was bigger than Billy Liar. His story held up longer than the fake 9/11 victim that like Marco wanted to be held up as a hero and also fight for the victims. This is a study of what makes a man lie! Then the snowball effect of those lies, how when the ball is rolling it was hard to turn back time and stop it. Till like in Marcos case it is a final event that explodes his world open. As ever frank has brought a poetic tone to Cercas words. This is a tale of a man’s twisted journey he did good but is that enough for the lies? Marco is an enigma even after this I still not sure what to make of him.

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Soldiers of Salamis by Javier Cercas

javier Cercas

javier Cercas

Soldier of Salamis by Javier Cercas

Spanish fiction

Original title – Soldados de Salamina 

Translator – Anne McLean

Source – Personnel copy .

 

you say you’ve got to go home ‘cos he’s sitting on his own again this evening.
I know you’re gonna let him bore your pants off again.
Oh God, it’s half past eight you’ll be late.
You say you’ve never been sure tho’ it makes good sense for you to be together.
Still you bought a toy that can reach
the places he never goes & now it’s getting late.
He’s so straight. Do you remember the first time?
I can’t remember a worse time
but you know that we’ve changed so much since then
Oh yeah, we’ve grown.
Now I don’t care what you’re doing

Do you remember the first time is a bit oike war stories our first time is often misremembered .source

 

I have read this book roughly around the time it came out and won the IFFP prize Lisa and I choose it as one of our books to celebrate 25 years od the IFFp running .With the clock running down to thursdays announcement I decide to start today with this tomorrow I have our shadow jury announcement and then thrursday will see what I have read of the longlist and what needs to be read by myself .Anyway back to Javier Cercas he is one of a number of great spanish writers that have in the last decade or two started looking at what happened during the Spanish civil war . I love this book as it in some ways captures what I enjoy most in recent Spanish language writing , even down to having the great Roberto Bolano as a character name  . Cercas has won numerous prize for his books this one in particular he has written 8 novels including two on here Outlaws and Anatomy of a moment  .

It was the summer of 1994 , more than six years ago now , when I first heard about Rafeal Sanchez Mazas facing the firing squad . Three things had just happened ; first my father had died ; then my wife had left me ; and finally , I’d given up my literary career .

Opening lines , the value of a story to a writer in the opening lines here .

The soldiers of Salamis , is really a study of how we view the past told in three parts . The connection between the three parts is the history of Rafeal Sanchez Mazas . The book revolves around an incident that happened during the civil war .Who in one day escapes a firing squad and then also nearly getting caught by a a soldier sent to search for him .The first is what he thought happened then in the following two parts more about the man that nearly caught him appear so was the original history the truth ? A writer in the present struggles with what is truth in historic fact and is all historic fact fiction in some way ? Was the man that spared Mazas Miralles the real hero of the story . A real look at hpw the events of the civil war still linked with the present and more so effected those involved .

Exhaling loudly , Bolano reminded me that he hadn’t seen Miralles for more than twenty years , and that he wasn’t friends with anyone from back then , anyone who could  – he stopped short and , offering no explanation , asked me to hang on a moment . I hung on . The moment got so long that I thought Bolano must have forgotten I was waiting on the phone .

I loved he called a character bolano .Like real Bolano he knows the other side of the story .

Well again like in the two other books I have reviewed by javier Cercas there is a thin line walked by him between truth and lies in fact between fact and fiction .This book could sit on the middle .the earlier books are Outlaws his childhood reimagined a fictional growing up story . Then in Anatomy  of a moment the attempt coup of the Spanish parliment in the 80’s is recounted more of a fact based non-fiction novel . So What do we learn , that the history of what happened in the spai=nish civil war was in some ways rewritten by those that won .There was good and bad on both sides . What we see is how history gets written or even invented or misrememebered . For me this is as near perfect novel and a fine example of what the IFFP should be there for promoting the best voices from around the world .

Have you read Javier Cercas

Outlaws by Javier Cercas

outlaws by Javier Cercas

Outlaws by Javier Cercas

Spanish fiction

Original title – Las leyes de la frontera

Translator – Anne McLean

Source – Library book

One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and to be understood.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca source

Now I had thought of rereading Soldiers Salamis for this Spanish lit month then by chance I caught Javier Cercas interviewed on the radio four book show about Outlaws and before the interview had finished I had already clicked the order button on my library ordering system .I have featured Javier Cercas before his last book out in the UK was The anatomy of a moment a non fiction narrative about the attempted coup in the mid 1980’s in Spain .Javier Cercas is of course an award-winning spanish writer ,he and some fellow writers have spent years writing books focusing on the historical memory of Spain’s past between the civil war and Franco’s death .

“That was where I saw Zarco for the first time .The Vilaro arcade was on Bonastruc de porta street ,still in La Devesa neighbourhood ,across from the railway overpass .It was one of those amusement arcades for teenagers that proliferated in the seventies and eighties.

Ignacio first sees him at the arcade on the edge of their part of town .

Now this book is again about the time of Franco just after he has died the vacuum that Spain had  ,but for once he isn’t the important figure in the book, but  no this is a story of growing up  in the 1970’s in a large Spanish town  Gerona and a triangle of friends one Ignacio is from one side of town or as Cercas put it in the interview one side of the river he is a quiet timid one could say a perfect vision of a bookish boy .When one day he is playing pinball and his life is changed forever when two kids from the other side of town (the rough side ) ,start playing pinball with him these two Zanco and Tere ,take Ignacio into their circle and show him the other side of town for just one summer in 1978  .Now this is the first part of the tale the story is strong with what Cercas called his own childhood memories of where he grew up  ,although Ignacio isn’t autobiographical he said in part he was Ignacio  at that age .The second line of the story finds the three characters in the mid 90’s on different sides of the fence again Zarco has gone on to be a huge gangster who after Igancio went away has spent time in prison and has now via their other friend Tere reached out to their old friend to help Zarco who is now a folk-lore gangster .But in doing so each must reflect on their own past .Add to that Tere is a girl you can see what can happen .

“Then Tere got to the point .She told me they wanted me to defend Zarco at a trial to be held in Barcelona in a few months time ,a trail in which Zarco would be accused of assaulting two guards at Brains prison .Of course ,Tere took it for granted that I knew ,as everyone did ,who Zarco had turned into over the years

Tere find Ignacio to help their old friend

Now it’s fair to say I liked this book ,no in fact I loved this book and was so glad I caught the interview ,I know so people don’t like to know to much about a book before they read it but the interview with Cercas sold it more so to me I would have picked it up from the library at some point to read but the writer sold it to me .The book is one of those soaked in the writers own past ,but also a dreamed past of what would have happened if he had ventured more into his own childhood town dark side .But it is also a story of the bond of friendship those ties that bind and as in this case can cross class ,moral and personnel beliefs .Zarco is a character that many places have the heroic or infamous gangster a sort of superstar of the underworld . Ignacio is the boy done good and Tere is the sort of go between .In fact the spanish title laws of the border maybe tells you more about this book that is what it is a bout crossing borders in one’s life .

Have you read Cercas ?

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