Ambiguity and Historical Interpretation in Javier Cercas’

 Soldados de Salamina



Manuel J. Villalba

University of California, Davis


The thirty four editions, all of which appeared in three years, the translations into several languages and the screen adaptation by the Spanish film director David Trueba, speak for themselves about the publishing success that Soldiers of Salamis (1) had in Spain and abroad. (2) Lacking a highly careful style, this novel owns a considerable part of its success to the topic it deals with: the Spanish Civil War. This is, undoubtedly, the episode that marked the most strongly the history, the culture and the collective unconscious of the Spanish society. As Paloma Aguilar Fernández explains:


Generally, the memories which are most likely to be remembered by the community are both the heroic and the tragic ones; those that conjure fundamental myths of countries […], and those that mark a severe rupture of the national identity (e.g. the civil wars). [My translation] (356)


The novel tells the true story of Rafael Sánchez Mazas’ almost execution. Sánchez Mazas is a fascist writer and founder, together with José Antonio Primo de Rivera, of Falange Española. (3) Javier Cercas, a young journalist, discovers by chance Sánchez Mazas’ story and decides to reconstruct it. Seeking exile, the Spanish loyalist troops are heading for France in disorder through the Catalan part of the border. Somebody in charge decides to execute a group of rebel prisoners. Sánchez Mazas, one of the ideological instigators of the fratricidal conflict, is one of the rebels. He escapes miraculously from the collective execution. The militiamen follow the fugitive and one of them finds him. Although on the verge of killing him, the militiaman lets him go without an explanation. Sánchez hides in the forest and lives with the help of a group of local farmers until the victorious arrival of the rebel National Army. The writer never forgets the republican militiaman who did not denounce him and the strange expression in his eyes. The narrator tries to write a novel about Sánchez Mazas’ execution and resolve the mystery regarding the militiaman who discovered him and saved his live. After writing the book, the narrator is not very satisfied with the result and gets deeply depressed. He realizes that his book is still missing a conclusion and decides to find the militiaman who saved Sánchez’ life. The book ends with the meeting between Cercas and the militiaman, Miralles, in an asylum in the south of France where the latter is spending the last days of his life. (4)

The novel is structured in three chapters. The first one focuses on the search for pieces of information and documents that the narrator Cercas has to carry out to reconstruct Sánchez Mazas’ story. The second one, on the other hand, represents both the reconstruction of the events the fascist writer went through, and the book which he had promised to the deserters and farmers who had helped him survive. In this book within a book Sánchez Mazas should have supposedly told everything that happened during those days. Yet, he never wrote the book during his real life. And the third chapter deals with the story of Miralles, the militiaman who lets Sánchez Mazas go. Miralles is an eighty year old man now and the narrator Cercas finds him in an asylum close to the city of Dijón, France.

The interpretation the author Javier Cercas gives to the recent history of Spain throughout Soldados de Salamina is slippery, and we can consider ambiguous the point of view from which he writes about the Civil War and the “Franquismo”. The different ethic codes which the author employs to judge history produce this ambiguity. We can detect at least three ethic codes that function as discourses and format the text: a) the ethic code of the actual democratic system of Spain, b) the counter cultural ethic code which puts into question the values of the code of democracy, and c) the ethic code which the “Franquismo” imposed after the Civil War during forty years of dictatorship.

The first discursive ethic code, as opposed to the “franquista” official discourse, is employed to characterize the 1931-1936 Republic established as a “legitimate political system”. When the narrator Cercas talks about Sánchez Mazas’ progressively renouncing the public sphere, he asserts about the latter: “And, moreover, of course, he didn’t regret having contributed with all his forces to the start of a war against a legitimate Republic” [My translation] (134). The quote can seem anecdotic, but it is not, if we remember the process of enculturation that the “Franquismo” put to work during forty years. (5) Part of this enculturation consisted in the spreading of the belief that the loyalist army of the Republic was actually a rebel army which was also called the “red hordes”. According to “Franquismo” enculturation, the “National Army”, that is the fascist army, made war in order to reestablish a fictitious preexistent political order. (6)

Secondly, after two thirds of the novel, the author exchanges Sánchez Mazas for a new hero: the Republican militiaman Miralles. The two characters share the forgetfulness of the History. For Gómez López-Quiñones that paradox is the very vertebral column of the narration (120). Referring to Sánchez Mazas, the narrator Cercas repeats several times, throughout the novel, Andrés Trapiello’s assertion about fascist writers: “They won the war, but they lost the History of Literature” [My translation] (22). (7) As far as Miralles is concerned, he represents the forgetfulness of the democratic society concerning those who fought for freedom in the Civil War:

-Shut up and listen to me, young man -he said-. Answer me! Do you think that anyone thanked me? I will tell you: nobody. Nobody ever thanked me for spending my youth fighting for your shitty country. Nobody. Not even a single word. Not a gesture, not a letter. Nothing. (175)


This change towards a more “politically correct” tone may have been caused by a publicity interest. Another, more complex interpretation is related to the fact that, on many occasions, in the novel, the narrator talks about his father’s death. We know that this death is one of the causes by which the narrator Cercas became really depressed right before the beginning of the plot. But, although we know this loss affects the narrator profoundly, he does not give us any information about his father. The narrator Cercas states in the end of the book: “Then, I thought it was not me who remembered my father, but it was him who was holding on to my memory, so as not to die entirely” [My translation] (187). Nevertheless, this absence in the novel leads us to conceive problematic relations between the narrator Cercas and his father. At two different points in the novel, we can notice how the narrator Cercas is trying to find a father in Miralles. First, when he correlates his father’s age to Miralles’ age: “I thought Miralles has the same age as my father would have if he was alive” [My translation] (187). Second, in the last pages of the book, when the narrator Cercas is returning to Spain after his meeting with Miralles, he fantasizes about creating some sort of family with Miralles, Conchi (the narrator Cercas’ extravagant girlfriend), Roberto Bolaños (the friend who gave him the one last clue to find Miralles), and Bolaños’ wife: “and we would form an odd or impossible family, and then Miralles definitely would stop being an orphan (and maybe so would I) and Conchi would feel the terrible nostalgia of having a baby (and maybe so would I)” [My translation] (206). (8)

Author Javier Cercas’ real family was “falangista”. In the above mentioned examples, we can notice a kind of “killing the (“falangista”) father” complex. In any case, the real Cercas feels a cultural guilt assuming somewhat the responsibility for the beginning of the war. This phenomenon is represented in the novel in the need the narrator feels to appropriate the republican identity and to look for a paternal relation with Miralles. (9)  

With the second discursive ethic code, Cercas puts in question the interpretative ethic values of democracy. The representation of this code in the narration can be summarized in Herzberges’ definition of the historic novel of the present time:

The novel of memory clearly stands with social realism in opposing the historiography of the Regime. In contrast to social realistic fiction, however, it strips history of its structured oneness, of its mythical enactment of progression, and most importantly, of its discourse that disaffirms dissent in the narrative capturing of the past. (67)


According to Herzberges’ definition, Cercas’s novel is a dissident narration, standing not only against the dictatorship moral code, but also against the democratic one. We can see this point in the way that Cercas presents the historic character of Sánchez Mazas. A good part of the novel is about the vindication of this fascist writer. His work was progressively forgotten; it was ignored even during the “franquista” period. It was interpreted from a political point of view during the “Transición” when the left dominated literary criticism. The narrator’s counter cultural point of view stands out when he asserts that Sánchez Mazas’ real interest in fascism was purely esthetical: “Some naïf people like the guardians of the leftist orthodoxy […] denounce that to vindicate a “falangista” writer was to vindicate […] “falangismo” [My translation] (22).

Thus, Cercas tries to separate the judgment of the literary work from the moral judgment. He tries to vindicate the literary figure he considers to be a good writer and, at the same time, the man who carries the main ideological responsibility for the Spanish Civil War. The narrator Cercas underlines at one point in the novel:

[…] the problematic certainty that literature is one thing and life is another, and that, consequently, it is possible to be a good writer being a bad person (or a person that helps and supports bad causes), the conviction that they [the literary critics] were literarily unjust with certain “falangista” writers. [My translation] (22).


Cercas’s explanation in brackets is significant and appears repeatedly throughout the book in relation with the value judgments concerning Sánchez Mazas. These explanations point out the uncertainty of the author when it comes to giving an opinion about the writer.

Moreover, the narrator presents Sánchez Mazas as an aristocratic and decadent poet. For example, the narrator excuses the violence of Falange Española by stating that violence was not typical of the founders of Falange. He describes them as a group of writers who were simply concerned with beauty and the sublime. From his point of view, violence had been unavoidably inherited from the past: “Violence came from before and despite of the victimizing protests of some leaders of the party who were refractory to it because of their temperament and their formation” [My translation] (87-8).

Cercas seems even to exonerate Sánchez Mazas from any responsibility and he puts in question the importance of the latter’s role in the outbreak of the Civil War. The narrator represents Sánchez Mazas as a poet who dreamed of the reconstruction of a mythical past. For Cercas the writer’s interest in fascism was purely esthetic:

Or, in other words: maybe, for Sánchez Mazas, fascism was merely the political intention of bringing to life his poetry, of creating the world he melancholically conjured up in his poetry – the abolished, invented and impossible world of Paradise. [My translation] (82). (10)


Finally, the narrator presents Sánchez Mazas as a product of his time, as a subject without agency, and determined by the historic circumstances in which he happened to live. We discussed this point earlier on, when talking about how the narrator describes violence as inherited from the past. At another point in the novel, for example, the narrator says that Sánchez Mazas’ belonging to the fascist party was a circumstantial consequence of his travel to Italy as a reporter of the newspaper ABC: “No matter, it is true that he enthusiastically welcomed the March towards Rome […] and that he saw in Benito Mussolini the reincarnation of the renaissance condotieros” [My translation] (82).

Following that, the narrator makes a distinction between the idearium and history of Falange Española and the idearium and history of the “Franquismo” and defines them as opposite. He contrasts the two historical figures José Antonio Primo de Rivera and general Francisco Franco Bahamonte. During the first twenty years of democracy in Spain, the left imposed the idea that the Movimiento Nacional was an entirely fascist organization. (11) This conceptualization of the Movimiento Nacional as homogeneous is still standing in Spain today. Someone outside the academia, especially someone belonging to the political arena, denying or questing this, would be no less than an anathema against the ethic code of democracy. Cercas speaks against this fascist definition of the “Franquismo” and highlights two aspects of the unique political party the Falange belonged to:

[…] the ideas and lifestyle, […] were, in time, converted to the lifestyle and ideas that had been initially adopted as revolutionary, avantgarde ideology because of the urgency of the war. These ideas were turned into an ornamental ideology by the fat, womanish, incompetent, astute and conservative military man who thus usurped them. These ideas and lifestyle were finally converted in the, more and more rotten and deprived of significance, paraphernalia against which a group of loons fought for forty years seeking to justify their shitty regime. [My translation] (86)


The quote is long, but highly significant. In this text, and generally throughout the novel, Falange Española is presented as a group of idealist writers, circumstantially involved in politics. According to Cercas, the “franquista” apparatus used them for evil purposes.

Third of all, the novel displays a positive perspective on fascism which, as opposed to the faulty democratic liberalism, is presented as a newly created historical product. Curiously enough, Cercas finds that fascism and communism share a characteristic which sets them both apart from liberalism: “César Arconada […] summarized the feeling a lot of people of his age shared when he declared that “a young man can be a communist, a fascist, anything but he cannot have any liberal ideas”. [My translation] (84)

Cercas does not choose this quote randomly. César Arconada was a communist writer exiled in the Soviet Union after the Civil War. Today he is practically forgotten by the (official) History of the Spanish Literature. (12)

The third ethic code in the novel is the code of the “franquista” enculturation. Throughout forty years, the “franquista” apparatus created all mechanisms of thought control which, according to Marvin Harris, a modern state can put to work: public spectacles, mass media and universal education (217-8). In Soldados de Salamina the elements of the “franquista” code look very diffuse if this code is not carefully delimited. The “Franquismo” had two discourses regarding the Civil War: the first one was public and official, the second one was private. (13) I am not going to describe the first one because it is the most well known and, in my opinion, it cannot be employed to interpret this novel. By contrast, the latter is present throughout the text. Inevitably, the Spanish “franquista” society developed a feeling of guilt for the outbreak of the Civil War. The latter was supposed to be a military intervention, similar to the XIXth century Spanish military tradition which aimed at taking the power transitorily without creating a long term state structure. Nevertheless, it failed and provoked one of the most shockingly fratricidal wars in the history of humanity. Unlike the victorious public discourse, the unofficial discourse described the Civil War as a war of “brothers against brothers”. Remorse leads the victorious party to appropriate a discourse according to which, they could both share responsibility with the defeated and create the fiction that it was an inevitable conflict. Thus, the discourse of the winning side borrowed the myth of Castille as a cainitic land and applied it to the entire Spain. (14) According to this discourse, Spain was essentially a country of fraternal jealousy, inevitably predetermined by its past. In the light of this interpretation, the Civil War, as an imminent historic event, had been in the process of gestation for centuries. The war was merely the expression of the very essence of Spain, land of Cain, land of jealousy and fratricide.

This discourse can be noticed at different points in Soldados de Salamina. Indeed, Cercas actually employs the adjective “cainita” in the text. When describing the literary activity of Rafael Sánchez Mazas, the narrator says: “a main goal […] was basically to save all possible quotes […] that could be used to justify the cainitic war which was to come” [My translation] (85).

The novel emphasizes some instances of brotherly communion between republicans and nationals both prior to and following the war. For example, the narrator describes the meetings of the leaders of the still in embryo Falange in the basement of the Café Lyón in Madrid. Fascist writers and politicians met leftist writers here:

They argued strongly, until late at night, about politics and literature, and they met, in an unlikely atmosphere of cordiality, young leftist writers with whom they shared ideas and beers and conversations and jokes and cordial insults. [My translation] (87)


The text goes on to talk about the breakdown of this brotherly cordiality between fascist and leftist writers because of the beginning of the Civil War. The Civil War and the dissolution it brought about were both unrelated to them and inevitable:

The beginning of the war turned the devoted and elusive hostility into a real hostility, although the inevitable damage of public life during the 30’s already announced, to whoever wanted to see it, the imminence of the change. [My translation] (87)


A similar moment of brotherhood, now during the war, occurs in Collell Abbey where Sánchez Mazas is a prisoner before his planned execution. During one of the walks which the prisoners are allowed by the guardians, one of the militiamen -the one who is later going to save the writer’s life and who will be known as Miralles- starts singing the pasodoble Suspiros de España and dances with his gun as he would with a woman. This leads to a moment of comradeship between prisoners and guardians. In Sánchez Mazas own words:


Before finish dancing the song, somebody said his name and insulted him mildly and, in that moment, it was as if the spell had broken; many started to laugh or smile, we started to laugh, prisoners and guardians, all of us. I think that was the first time I had laughed in a long time. [My translation] (122)


With reference to this camaraderie, Cercas establishes a connection between Sánchez Mazas and republican writers and politicians. In the novel, the narrator tells us how the writer Sánchez Mazas had bought a house together with José Bergamín before the war. The fact that Bergamín was communist is emphasized in the text (133). We also find out that Sánchez Mazas had asked Franco to change the death penalty of the poet Miguel Hernández into life prison. The latter was dying in the prison of Alicante (77). Mention is made of how Sánchez Mazas had engaged in a friendly relationship with Indalecio Prieto at the time when both of them worked as reporters in Morocco, during the last Spanish colonial war in North Africa (88). During the Civil War, Prieto is the Secretary of Transports of the Largo Caballero republican government and he saves Sánchez Mazas’ life when the latter is arrested by a group of UGT members in Madrid. Prieto advises him to hide in the Chilean embassy, where Sánchez Mazas will live for the following three years, while the war lasts (92).

Nevertheless, the most interesting element of the cainitic discourse of the Civil War in the text is Cercas’ article which he publishes in the provincial newspaper where he works. The article has as topic the sixtieth anniversary of Antonio Machado’s death during his exile in France. First, Cercas talks in the article about the different destinies of the two Machado brothers. They were inseparable, but the war caught them by surprise in two different military areas of Spain:

The July18th state strike caught Manuel in Burgos, a rebel zone and Antonio, in Madrid, a republican zone. We can think that, had Manuel been in Madrid, he would have been loyal to the Republic. Useless to think what would have happened had Antonio been in Burgos. [My translation] (25)


This text represents the cainitic myth of the Spanish Civil War - two brothers separated by destiny find themselves in two antagonist sides of a war they have nothing to do with.

This narrative structure applies in this same article to Sánchez Mazas´ story. Cercas employs the same ethic judgment to connect Antonio Machado’s death to Sánchez Mazas’ execution.  At the time, the former was already in exile on the French side of the border while the latter was a prisoner of the republican militia, on the Spanish side of the border. Cercas emphasizes the similarities of the two stories:

I imagined then, that the symmetry and contrast between these two terrible stories –close to being a chiasm of History- may have not been casual and that, if I could be able to tell everything in the same article, this strange parallelism could give the events a new significance. (23)


This last assertion is somewhat naïf, since it is an interpretative pattern of history, which, as we saw, belongs to the “franquismo”.  Talking about the Spanish postmodern novel, Jo Labanyi states in the book Myth and History in the Contemporary Spanish Novel:

The aim continues to be that of “desmythification”, with the important difference that novelists now show an awareness of the fact that language inevitably mysthifies reality and that the writer approximates to reality not by “describing it as it is”, but by exposing the falsifications perpetrated by language –that of others and the writer’s own. (52)


Soldiers of Salamis is, therefore, an explicit questioning of language as a “mythificator” of the past, which uses preexistent myths to narrate the past, and of the authenticity of both the historic discourse and the collective memoir. The entire novel is based on the idea that the text is not actually a novel, but a “real” narration. It centers on the story of the real life writer and journalist Javier Cercas, the real execution story of the real life Rafael Sánchez Mazas and, what the novel wants us to believe is the “real” story of Miralles, the militiaman that let him escape. Only the execution of Rafael Sánchez Mazas happened entirely as presented in the novel. The character Miralles and his story are entirely fictional. The story of the real life writer and journalist Javier Cercas’ is a mixture of reality and fiction. (15) In my opinion, Soldiers of Salamis is an example of Labanyi’s idea that, for the last thirty years, language has not been employed in the Spanish historical novel to describe reality. On the contrary, it has been trying to call our attention to the paradoxes and ambiguities occurring when events are represented in language. The narrator Cercas talks about this issue throughout the novel, for example when he states regarding his sources of information: “I asked myself whether these narrations were in agreement with the truth or if, maybe inevitably, they were painted with varnish by this mass of half truths and lies.” (62) Soldiers of Salamis is, in this sense, a historic and memoirist reformulation meant to explain the falsehood of language.

Published in 2001, Soldiers of Salamis is a product of the particular social and cultural context that created the memoirist interpretation of the recent past in Spanish society. All of this is, of course, related to the Civil War and “Franquismo”. The experience of the Civil War and its dark end in the “Franquismo” were so traumatic for the Spanish society that the process of reformulation could not be concluded in these past thirty years. According to Gómez López-Quiñones:

The Spanish Civil War is still a historic, symbolic and textual space, very dynamic, open and conflicting whose ending or conclusion seems unlikely. The Spanish Civil War can and must still rewrite vindictively because, for many reasons, the democratic transition did not bring about a historiographic and literary discourse for the majority, one that is solid and radical enough to redeem all the excesses and manipulations done for the “Franquista” regime. [My translation] (123)


Following the “forgetfulness” pact during the Spanish Transition to democracy, from the middle 90’s, the Spanish society started to slowly leave the voluntary amnesia. (16) From that moment on, Spain started facing the task of interpreting its recent past. This was especially difficult because, in order to create a place in history for this period, a moral judgment was required. Or, this moral judgment employed values born during the first twenty years of the constitutional monarchy. (17)

Cercas’ ambiguous interpretation of the fascist and dictatorial past of Spain from these three ethic codes represents the process of reformulation that the historic discourse has been undergoing since 2001. This ambiguity represents a historic stage in the process of rewriting the past that Dominick LaCapra defines as “working through”:

Working through involves repetition with significant difference –difference that may be desirable when compared with compulsive repetition. In any event, working through is not a linear, teleological, or straightforward developmental (or stereotypically dialectical) process either for the individual or for the collectivity. It requires going back to problems, working them over, and perhaps transforming the understanding of them. (148)


The Spanish historic memoir is “working through” in a reformulating process with a diffuse aim. We can view this aim as an ambiguous interpretative space mediating two opposing points of view: the “mesetarian” guilt driven point of view and the “periferal” victimization point of view. They both share only democratic values and give birth to very different interpretations of History. Soldiers of Salamis, as an example of the “mesetarian” point of view, represents the paradox of having different ethic codes to interpret History.



(1) This novel was translated into English by Anne McLean in 2003 with the title Soldiers of Salamis.


(2) The source of this piece of information is the web page of Tusquets Publishers and the web page of the film directed by David Trueba and produced by Vicente Andrés Gómez.


(3) Falange Española was the Spanish fascist party, ideologically homologous to the Italian Partito Nazionale Fascista of Benito Musolini. Falange supplied Franquismo with a politic structure. We can define Franquismo as the dictatorial regime instituted after the Spanish Civil War by the traditionalist general Francisco Franco Bahamonte. It lasted forty years. The source of this piece of information is Javier Tusell´s monograph La dictarura de Franco. This book is an excellent classic study on the nature and evolution of general Franco’s regime, and its relation with the fascist ideology. 


(4) I am mentioning two Javier Cércas-s in this work: the writer of the book, and the protagonist of the book who is writing a book of his own. The meta-narration can make my exegesis confusing. I will refer to the first one as the author Cercas, and to the second one as the narrator Cercas.


(5) Marvin Harris defines “enculturation” as “a partly conscious and partly unconscious learning experience whereby the older generation invites, induces, and compels the younger generation to adopt traditional ways of thinking and behaving” (7). During forty years general Franco’s dictatorship imposed an entire reading of history and a new moral code which penetrated society, especially the future generations during the war, in many different ways. I will refer again to this process in the analysis of the third discursive ethic code of Soldados de Salamina.


(6) We can find a very concrete example of this in the “franquista” legislation. The political system of the “Franquismo” based its legal apparatus on the “Leyes Fundamentales”. War prisoners and exiled people were judged for the delinquency of having rebelled against the state and the laws of the Dictatorship that had been established after the war!!!


(7) Cercas takes this sentence from Trapiello´s book Las armas y las letras. Literatura y Guerra Civil (1936-1939).


(8) Roberto Bolaños is another character taken from real life. Roberto Bolaños (1953-2003) is a very well known Chilean writer. Some of his more popular books are Los detectives salvajes, El gaucho insufrible and 2666, the novel he left unconcluded upon his death. Bolaños lived several times throught his life in Gerona, the city where Javier Cercas lives in real life and where a good part of the plot of Soldados de Salamina is happening. I take all this information about Bolaños from the internet web page:

(9) Another element that supports this idea is the fact that the novel has two heroes: Sánchez Mazas and Miralles. Cercas would have chosen the “falangista” writer, but he finally chose the old republican ex-militiaman. 


(10) My emphasis.


(11) After the Spanish Civil War, all the parties and politic associations that were not forbidden were grouped by Franco in one unique party with a strong bureaucratic character. According with Javier Tusell, the “franquismo” differs from fascism in its Italian version, since the former did not have as purpose a revolution of the values and the creation of a moral and political new man. The “franquismo” had as target the political demobilization of the Spanish society. The main groups or political families that formed the Movimiento Nacional were: the fascists of Falange Española, the “carlistas”, the monarchists and the ultraconservatives or traditionalists.   


(12) It is interesting to notice the place of Sánchez Mazas and Arconada in the Manual de Literatura Española edited by Felipe Pedraza. Both of them have a very small rubric. The former appears in the chapter titled “Writers of the 50’s: Outside the Dominant Tendencies” and the sub rubric “Esthetic Writers”. The latter appears in the chapter “Writer of the Period of the Avangarde” and the sub rubric “Social Realism”.


(13) I am extrapolating this idea from the book Así se hizo la Transición by Victoria Prego. This journalist gathers in this book materials she had collected as research for the preparation of the homonymous TV series. The book is, generally, superficial in its historic analysis and it often appears to be simply anecdotic, but it is an infinite source of first hand testimonial pieces of information. One such piece of information is the double discourse, both political and private, of the “franquista” politicians.


(14) The myth of Castille as “Cain’s land” is a discourse that appears repeatedly in the entire cultural production of Castille. The first text where we can see this mythical structure is probably the Primera Crónica General de España or Estoria de España written by the king Alfonso X el Sabio in the XIIIth century. This chronicle tells the story of Fernando I, the very first king of Castille, and of his access to power following his killing of his brother, don García (484-6).

The most recent, and the most well known, example before the Civil War is the chapter “La tierra de Alvar González” comprising ballads by Antonio Machado in his book Campos de Castilla, edited in 1912. These are narrative ballads written in the traditional form of “romance”. They tell the story of Alvar González’s killing by his sons. The latter wanted to come into possession of the money which was left to them through inheritance (517-41). We have to remember that Antonio Machado and all the members of the Generación del 98 wanted to regenerate Spain and looked for its essence and true nature in Castille. 


(15) Cercas explains this mixture of reality and fiction as a reaction against those who claim that the novel is dead. In an interview for, Cercas assertes: “it is an argument against the people that claim that the novel is dead, because the novel is the most malleable genre. […] I have mixed reality and fiction, but it is possible to make this and thousands of other things”.


(16) Throughout the novel, this pact of forgetfulness that facilitated the Transition to Democracy is alluded to many times in a contemptuous manner. For example, when the novel is just about to finish, Miralles says to the narrator Cercas:

-Shut up and listen to me, young man -he said-. Answer me! Do you think that anyone has ever thanked me? I will answer: nobody. Nobody has ever thanked me for spending my youth fighting for your shitty country. Nobody. Not even a single word. Not a gesture, not a letter.

“Out of all stories of History”, I thought while Miralles was talking, “the History of Spain is the saddest one, because it always finishes in a bad way.” Then, I thought: “Does it always finish  in a bad way?.” I thought: The Transition was a big bullshit!” (175)


(17) It is possible to culturally distinguish between two kinds of Spaniards: “mesetarios” and “periféricos”. The first ones belong culturally to the two extended valleys in the centre of the Iberian Peninsula. They are monolinguals. Neither the rest of the Spanish, nor themselves acknowledge any dialectal difference in their language (standard Spanish). “Mesetarios” do not have a different identity structure from the Spanish one. The second ones are bilinguals (in Catalan, Galician or Basque) and/or their Spanish displays a “dialectical mark”. Unlike the national identity of the “mesetarios”, their national identity is more complex. The latter can ranges from people who simply do not consider themselves Spaniards (e.g. Basque and Catalan nationalists) people who consider themselves Spanish, but not prototypical (e.g. asturian or andalusian people). This distinction is relevant. The historic interpretation of the Guerra Civil and the “Franquismo” is different depending on the cultural point of view. Franco (curiously a “periferical”) considers “mesetarian” culture the essence of Spain and the only appropriate one. “Franquismo” tried to impose this culture to the rest of the country and repressed any other national and cultural identities; therefore, “periferical people”, especially those living in Catalonya or the Basque country, interpret history differently. Cercas’ interpretation and questioning of history is decidedly an example of the “mesetarian” point of view.


Cited Works

Agular Fernández, Paloma. Memoria y olvido de la Guerra Civil Española. Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 1996.


Cercas, Javier. Soldados de Salamina. Barcelona: Tusquets, 2001.


---. Soldiers of Salami. Trans. Anne Mclean. London: Bloomsbury, 2003. 18 March 2006. <>


Gómez López-Quiñones, Antonio. “La Guerra Civil española: Soldados de Salamina de Javier Cercas.” La Palabra y el Hombre. 127 (2003: Julio/Septiembre).


Harris, Marvin. Cultural Anthropology. New York: Harper & Row, 1987.


Herzberger, David K. Narrating the Past. Fiction and History in Postwar Spain. Durham & London: Duke U.P., 1995.


Labanyi, Jo. Myth and History in the Contemporary Spanish Novel. Cambridge: Cambridge U.P., 1989.


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