This was my choice for the next book club being as I didn’t want to read Winter in Madrid again. It was a risky choice after no-one read for Whom the Bell Tolls when I chose that but I saw this listed as one of the must read books about Spain in a list somewhere and it was not a disappointment.
Soldiers of Salamis claims to be a novel but in fact the bulk of the novel is based on real occurrences during the Spanish Civil War. The founder of the Falange (Spain’s fascist party) Rafael Sanchez Mazas is about to be executed along with 49 other Nationalists by the Republicans in the closing stages of the war as the Republicans realise defeat is looming. Mazas claims to have escaped and is hiding in the woods when he is seen by a Republican soldier, instead of killing him or handing him over the soldier simply looks at him and walks away.
The author Cercas, at this time perceives himself to be a failed writer and is working as a journalist when he hears about the story of Mazas. After further investigation and interviews with some of the people involved in the event, or their descendants he decides that this would make an excellent book. As he investigates further he begins to wonder about whom the man was who saved Mazas and begins a search to find him.
This book is a very moving account of the Civil War and questions Spain’s past and the idea of what makes a hero. It is well worth reading although I would recommend that if you are not au fait with the Spanish Civil War that you read the translators afterword first in which the background to it is explained.
NB found this whilst listening to my great BBC world service podcasts, here is Cercas talking about the novel