Review: Soldiers of Salamis

Posted 2 April, 2014 by Lianne in Books / 0 Comments

Soldiers of Salamis
By: Javier Cercas
Format/Source: eBook; my copy

In the final moments of the Spanish Civil War, a writer and founding member of Franco’s Fascist Party is about to be shot, and yet miraculously escapes into the forest. When his hiding place is discovered, he faces death for the second time that day-but is spared, this time by a lone soldier. The POW becomes a national hero and a member of Franco’s first government, while the soldier is forgotten. Sixty years later, Cercas’s novel peels back the layers of truth and propaganda in order to discover who the real hero was.

I honestly can’t remember how long ago I came across this novel; it was during one of my many searches on GoodReads for novels written by Spanish authors. The premise sounded really interesting, of a man who was able to escape death on two occasions during the Civil War. I had picked up a copy of the book for my eReader a year and a half ago but did not get around to it until now (becasue of the following reading challenge ;)).

This book is part of the Everything Espana Reading Challenge 2014 that I am participating in.

Soldiers of Salamis is part fictional and part non-fictional, covering a detail from the Spanish Civil War, namely Rafael Sánchez Mazas, a poet and founding member of the Falangist group in Spain (you can read more about him on Wikipedia), and his escape from death. Rafael Sanchez was quite lucky in his escapes and ends up in quite a prominent position after the war. The novel reads like a mystery as the fictional Javier Cercas tries to figure out exactly what happened, who was involved, and who the real hero of the entire event was. In the process, the novel meditates much on the spanish Civil War and its impact both on its history and its future, the point of it all, how it changed Spanish society, and so forth. At the same time the novel touches on the subject of writing, what it means to be a writer and crafting a story, understanding events, etc.

However Soldiers of Salamis can be a rather dense read: at times the paragraphs can be especially long and the writing style almost lifeless, like reading an encyclopaedia entry (though this might also be the result of the translation process). Names are thrown out there, especially in the second part of the novel, that it can be quite easy to get lost in the course of events.

While it can be a little dreary reading through it, Soldiers of Salamis is important in its own way, trying to understand the Spanish Civil War through one specific incident. I was initially going to give the book 2.5 because of the reading experience (I enjoyed reading the first part of the novel but the book lost my attention as I progressed into parts two and three) but gave it a 3 because of the themes that it was addressing through the novel (as opposed to the course of events that make up the story).

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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