Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Review: "Soldiers of Salamis" by Javier Cercas

I see why Javier Cercas’ Soldiers of Salamis was such a big hit with both critics and intellectuals, but that doesn’t mean I enjoyed it completely. For the most part, I found the short little journey that this slim novel took me on to be interesting at it best moments, even though it has a few stumbles on its way to the conclusion, as well as a bit of pandering to the deceased, which while good, came off as cheap and tawdry given the person’s popularity and timeline of death (more on that soon). But while it is a tarnished gem, I’ve got to show some respect for the book’s underlying themes and messages, which really struck a chord with me, and will with others, no doubt. It makes up for some of the slower parts, which are filled with dry accounts of history that shouldn’t belong in a book already this short. The main character is a fictionalized version of Javier Cercas. Both have published two novels to little fanfare, and have deep-seeded personal issues. In the story, Cercas’ life takes a good turn when he hears about a rebel during the Spanish Civil War, who’s live was spared after he escaped from a firing squad, and was essentially set free by a solider who didn’t tell his superiors where he was hiding. This eerie twist of fate propels the fictional Cercas to start writing again, and uncover a few new truths in this real-life tall tale. This idea of the author creating a fake identity for themselves in their novel is one I’m always weary of, but here it works quite well, with his fictional girlfriend, Conchi, being a cool kind of moral addition to the proceedings, and what the book says about heroes and the personal cost of doing right is really poignant. Like I said, there is too much history that kind of put me to sleep, the real issue is the inclusion of a pivotal scene involving Roberto Bolano. Cercas meets him and he provides him with information on a person who might be the solider in question. It is a cool scene, but it reeks of Cercas wanting to be someone, “in the know” with Bolano, following his posthumous rise to fame. If this doesn’t bother, I’d say check this neat little book out.
Rating: 4/5

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