Jeff Scott's Reviews > Soldiers of Salamis: A Novel

Soldiers of Salamis by Javier Cercas
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's review
Jul 01, 10

bookshelves: 1001books, war, metafiction, fiction, spanish-fiction, classics
Read from June 22 to 30, 2010

You would think that, as a soldier fighting a bloody war, when faced with the man whose words helped start the way, that soldier would shoot him dead. In Soldiers of Salamis, that soldier doesn't, which drives the plot of this story.

Cercas is a struggling writer. He has just failed at his latest attempt in writing a novel after receiving a hiatus at the local paper. Forced to do more of the menial reporting tasks, he runs across an author with an interesting story about his father. Rafael Sánchez Mazas, a Falangist (a right wing part that helped bring about the Spanish Civil War), is set to be executed by a group of Republican soldiers, miraculously, he escapes during the mass execution. Lying in a ditch, a soldier finds him, looks him in the eye, but when asked if he sees anyone replies, "There's no one here". This incident drives Cercas to write a book called, the Soldiers of Salamis, a sort of book within a book type of story.

The first part of the story emphasizes Mazas and his part in inflaming the war. It deals with someone who can be a good writer, but a terrible person and the ideas behind Mazas. This part of the story wasn't as interesting. It is more told from the point of view that he was a terrible person, he got away with this war, ultimately, he failed in what he wanted to accomplish (a completely Catholic based Fascist Spain). Mazas dominates the first part and the middle part (which includes the book within a book).

The story gets really interesting in the last fifty pages. The author meets with Roberto Bolano who helps inspire an ending to this story. (an author helping another end the story by being part of the story). (It was further strange that I am reading this book while reading Bolano's 2666 getting very metafictional). More detail would spoil the ending, which is the key to this short book.

The foreshadowing of this book suggests a sad ending. "This story is about Spain, and it is a sad story because it ends badly." So the ending of this book makes suggestions as to whether the ending really happened or if he made it up because he needed a hero, or that it would be more interesting that way. In a way, that ending is cathartic and healing over what happened to Spain then, a beautiful ending.

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Reading Progress

06/22/2010 page 5
2.0% "I mean that the fasion arose, in the best cases (the worst aren't worth mentioning), from the natural need all writers have to invent their own tradition, from a certain urge to be provocotive, from the problematic certainty that literature is one thing and life another and that it was therefore possible to be a good writer at the same time as being a terrible person..."
06/27/2010 page 39
18.0% "...a violent patriotic poetry of sacrifice and yokes and arrows...that inflamed the imaginations of youths and would send them to slaughter"
06/27/2010 page 73
34.0% "...fascism was a way of realizing his poetry, of making real the world it evoked--the abolished, invented, impossible world of Paradise"
06/30/2010 page 134
63.0% "...writing and plenitude are incompatible."

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