The Idealization of Memory in Soldiers of Salamis

Article excerpt

Abstract

The enormous popularity of Javier Cercas's novel Soldiers of Salamis (2001), based in part on the author's real investigations about a mysterious episode from the Spanish Civil War, led David Trueba to direct a cinematographic adaptation of the work in 2003. This study explores the aspects of the film and novel that create a more positive and united vision of Spain's past. Neither version portrays the fascist repression during or after the war and references to the uprising or the war use ambiguous terms that do not suggest violence. Soldiers of Salamis also idealizes collective memory by bridging the divide between republicans and fascists. Several aspects of the work, including the idea that victimhood due to the war was universal, portray the country as being more unified than it really was.

Resumen

El éxito comercial de la novela de Javier Cercas, Soldados de Salamina (2001), que se basa en parte en las investigaciones reales del autor sobre un episodio misterioso de la Guerra Civil Española, le llevó a David Trueba a adaptarla al cine en 2003. Este estudio explora los aspectos de la película y novela que crean una visión más positiva y unida del pasado español. Ninguna de las versiones muestra la represión fascista durante o después de la guerra y las referencias a la sublevación y guerra usan términos ambiguos que no sugieren la violencia. Asimismo, Soldados de Salamina idealiza la memoria colectiva al sugerir que no había tanta división entre los bandos enfrentados. Varios aspectos de la obra, incluyendo la idea de que la victimización debido a la guerra fue universal, dibujan al país como más unificado de lo que era.

Soldiers of Salamis (2001), a novel by Javier Cercas, captures the author's real investigations into an episode from the Spanish Civil War: the failed attempt to execute Rafael Sánchez Mazas, a leader of the fascist party, the Falange Española. From the first page of the novel, the line between reality and fiction is blurred by the fact that the narrator's name is the same as the author's. The popularity of the novel led David Trueba to direct a cinematographic adaptation of the work in 2003. I will attempt to establish a dialogue between the novel and the film because many critics refer to one or the other, but their comments are often valid for both. Also, some aspects I will discuss are better appreciated in the film and others in the novel. One significant difference between the works is the protagonist's change of identity: Javier Cercas becomes Lola Cercas. What is lost with regard to the blurring of fiction and reality due to this change is recaptured by an element of artistry only possible in the film: Trueba uses a hand-held camera to intertwine reality and fiction.

In this study, I will analyse several aspects of the film and the novel, including the use of a hand-held camera, to explain how Soldiers of Salamis facilitates the creation of a more favourable and united image of Spain's history. Other aspects include the suggestion that victimization was universal and that forgiveness has led to the reunification of the 'two Spains'. The work also obviates the negative elements of the past and downplays the influence of Sánchez Mazas in the instigation of the military coup. The memory theory developed by Dominick LaCapra, Maurice Halbwachs, Juanjo Igartua and Dario Paez will aid the exploration of Soldiers of Salamis and the analysis of its relationship to collective memory.

Soldiers of Salamis has intrigued critics, who have explored various aspects of the novel and film. Carlos Yushimito del Valle views Cercas's novel as an exploration of the complex nature of humans, whose motivations can be contradictory. The objective is to confront 'las obras de dos hombres paralelos': 'la fina y aristocrática brutalidad del intelectual franquista con la del burdo miliciano', who allows Sánchez Mazas to escape and is suggested to be Antonio Miralles (2003). If Yushimito's article lacks a certain impartiality by classifying the republican side as 'el correcto' and the nationalist side as 'el incorrecto' and by oversimplifying the origins of the latter, his observation that Miralles' act of saving Sánchez Mazas makes him both a hero (for his magnanimous act) and a traitor (to his republican comrades) proves interesting. …