It is easy to get wrapped up in a post-modern analysis of what is essentially a simple tale or a 'true tale', as Mr Cercas prefers to call this 'novel'. Or should that name be given to the Cercas who is an unreliable narrator/journalist within the tale? Or should this be described as a 'Non-Fiction' novel (credit to Sebastiaan Faber)? Don't know and not sure I care. Let's call it a book.
The book reads as a story of investigative journalism to discover why one of the Falangist leaders was spared execution by the retreating Republicans at the end of the Spanish Civil War. During this quest, the author touches on questions of what in the UK we would call historiography but which in Spain equate to the highly politically-charged 'memory movement'. Consequently, the book caused a sensation in Spain when published. This is more difficult to appreciate in the UK where Franco is simply one more Fascist dictator.
It was all progressing well until the narrator meets Chilean novelist Roberto Bolano; a man for whom brevity is anathema. It is a bit patchy but the ending is quite moving. On a simpler level, the book strives to discover 'an essential secret' about men and war.
Showered with accolades on publication, it now feels dated barely fifteen years later. Increasingly superceded by politcal change in Spain. Cercas seems to be sitting on the fence, all things to all men. What may have appeared heavyweight in 2001, now seems distinctly bantamweight.
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