Thursday, July 25, 2013

Anatomy of the Moment-Javier Cercas

Anatomy of the Moment-Javier Cercas

the facts
satisfaction: side/up
pages: 416
gender: M
nationality: Spain
year: 2011
Non fiction, History, in translation

In February 1981, Spain was still emerging from Franco's shadow, holding a democratic vote for the new prime minister. On the day of the vote in Parliament, while the session was being filmed by TV cameras, a band of right-wing soldiers burst in with automatic weapons, ordering everyone to get down. Only three men defied the order. For thirty-five minutes, as the cameras rolled, they stayed in their seats. Critically adored novelist Javier Cercas originally set out to write a novel about this pivotal moment, but determined it had already gained an air of myth, or, through the annual broadcast of video clips, had at least acquired the fictional taint of reality television. Cercas turned to nonfiction, and his vivid descriptions of the archival footage frame a narrative that traverses the line between history and art, creating a daring new account of this watershed moment in modern Spanish history.

This book focuses on one of the most tense and interesting points in Spanish history-the day an armed coup threatened a democracy just beginning to pull the country out of its dictatorship. Spain's transition to democracy is usually heralded as a miracle and as an example of how to throw off the mantle of a dictatorship and emerge as a modern country. But at the time, it was unclear whether this was an experiment that would succeed or an abject failure. It was a pivotal time when Tejero burst into the Spanish Congress of Deputies (along with 200 Guardia Civil officers) on camera. It is history's only televised coup and, also a rarity, a bloodless collapsed coup. I never learned about it in detail in school, it was mentioned of course, everyone knows about 23-F or El Tejerazo but somehow I missed out on all the fascinating details about it.

Cercas didn't miss a single detail (it seems). He manages to approach the event exhaustively. He talks about all the major players without going into unnecessary background and uses them, Suarez, Gutierrez Mellado and Carillo, as the organizational scheme (a very literary way to do so). He analyzes the television reports as a media analysis, a cinematic analysis, and even somewhat like a movie review. He asks hard questions that have no answer but gives answers. This is a dense book, somewhat hard to read, but Cercas has an accessible writing style as he applies layer after layer. There is nothing glossed over in factual analysis and he also adds in the question of separating truth and fiction (and whether there is a truth in the first place). Originally intended as a novel, there are moments of pure beauty in this writing when the metaphor overshadows the facts. This is not a quick read nor an easy one but it is rewarding. I'm glad I did it because I've come away with such an understanding of 23-F that no traditional education would have given me.

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