Soldiers of Salamis
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In the final moments of the Spanish Civil War, fifty prominent Nationalist prisoners are executed by firing squad. Among them is the writer and fascist Rafael Sanchez Mazas. As the guns fire, he escapes into the forest, and can hear a search party and their dogs hunting him down. The branches move and he finds himself looking into the eyes of a militiaman, and faces death for the second time that day. But the unknown soldier simply turns and walks away. Sanchez Mazas becomes a national hero and the soldier disappears into history. As Cercas sifts the evidence to establish what happened, he realises that the true hero may not be Sanchez Mazas at all, but the soldier who chose not to shoot him. Who was he? Why did he spare him? And might he still be alive?
alive. Father Prats also gave me precise directions to get to the spot where the execution took place. Following them, I left the monastery by the access road, arrived at a stone cross commemorating the massacre, turned left down a path which snaked through pines and came out in the clearing. I stayed there for a while, walking beneath the cold sun and immaculate, windy October sky, not doing anything other than sounding out the leafy silence of the forest and trying in vain to imagine the light
place in August 1939, when, in putting together the first post-war government, Sánchez Mazas, who since May had occupied the position of National Delegate of the Falange Exterior, was named Minister Without Portfolio. This was not, of course, an exclusive occupation, or he didn't take it very seriously; in any case, he knew how to fulfil it without any prejudice to his recaptured vocation as a writer: during that time he published frequently in newspapers and journals, attended literary
fascinating tale to tell, which happens (mostly) to be true. He has written a marvellous novel' Susan Sontag 'His thematic conclusions are powerful and humane . . . its moral core is smart and compelling' Publishers Weekly 'It lays bare the virtual impossibility of historical certainty, the whimsicality of fate, the unpredictability and unreliability of memory and the elusiveness of truth . . . Cercas perfectly captures the uncanny ways in which a story evolves' Houston Chronicle 'This book
one time I ran into him on the seafront in Castelldefells, we went to have an horchata together and then he suggested I come to the pictures with him; since I didn't have anything better to do, I went with him. It might seem incredible that in a holiday resort town they'd be showing a John Huston film, but these things happened back then. Do you know what Fat City means? Something like "city of opportunities", or "fantastic city" or, even better, "some city!" Well, some sarcasm! Because Stockton,
he told in his book. He said Liliana Ferlosio, Sánchez Mazas' wife, whom it seemed he'd visited frequently before her death. 'It's odd,' I remarked. 'Except for one detail, the story coincides point by point with what Ferlosio told me — as if, instead of telling it, they'd both recited it.' 'Which detail is that?' 'A minor one. In your telling (in Liliana's, that is), when he sees Sánchez Mazas the militiaman shrugs his shoulders and then he walks away. In mine (in Ferlosio's, that is), before