Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Review: Soldiers of Salamis

Title: Soldiers of Salamis (Solados de Salamina)
Author: Javier Cercas
Translator: Anne McLean
Genre: (Historical) Fiction
Year: 2001
Pages: 214

Soldiers of Salamis is a novel about an author, a fictionalized version of the novel's author Cercas, who does not know what to write about. He then stumbles upon the story of Rafael Sanchez Mazas, who was supposed to be executed by firing squad near the end of the civil war, but was able to run away. Wanting to find out how he was able to escape his death and how he spent the rest of his life, Cercas starts writing.

The novel is divided into three parts. The first one introduces Cercas as a journalist struggling to find his ambition. The second part tells the story of Mazas through the eyes of many of his acquaintances of the time of the Civil War. This part is supposedly the actual novel. Once this part is over, however, Cercas thinks the story incomplete. Here, we're thrown back into (fictional) Cercas's life, learning more about him, as well as Mazas and the Spanish Civil War.

While the premise of the story is intriguing, what struck me once I'd finished the novel, was that I enjoyed the first and last parts most, even though these are, in a sense, not the actual plot. This was mostly due to the structure and writing style of the middle part. As this existed of testimonies of men who may have misty memories as it was over 60 years ago, and then retold by Cercas, none of it was even remotely reliable. While many may think this is a strength of the novel and the way of story telling, it bothered me greatly. Moreover, it was told rather dryly. I would imagine Mazas's friends telling the stories with passion, grief even, but Cercas's report would then be really factual, summing up dates and events.
I was greatly pleased when I noticed the last part adapted a completely different style: the personal view of the start of the book came back and we get much more emotion as well as more engaged and beautiful writing. While I cared little for the main characters of the main storyline, Mazas and his friends, the characters in the last section truly touched my heart.

To conclude I would thus say that the novel was okay. Had it not been for the final part it would have hardly reached two stars, had it not been for the middle, I may have rated it four. Obviously, however, there would have been no story if it hadn't been for the middle part.

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