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Democracy field notes

Coming to Terms with the Past: The Puzzling Politics of Memory

Javier Cercas.

Javier Cercas, Spain’s most celebrated contemporary writer, was recently in Sydney, where I had the great pleasure of interviewing him before an audience in the University’s Great Hall.

For those who may not know his work, Cercas was born in Ibahernando, in central Spain, in 1962. Fascinated from a young age by the works of Jorge Luis Borges and determined to become a writer, Cercas studied Spanish literature at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. His haunting novel Soldiers of Salamis (2004) became a great success. Digging into the painful history of Spain’s Civil War through the gripping, death-defying story of fascist soldier Sanchez Mazas, Cercas uses irony, paradox and self-references to involve us in the creation of the novel. In this way, he encourages readers of his ‘true tale’ to ponder for themselves questions about the vital importance in a democracy of coming to terms with the past and the difficulty of deciding what is true, what is false, what is best forgotten and what cannot be remembered.

Speaker with a difference: Colonel Tejero during the attempted 23-F coup in Spain’s parliament, 1981.

Javier Cercas has published nine books and many shorter texts and translations. His most recent work is The Anatomy of a Moment (2011), a controversial prize-winning account of the failed coup d’état in Spain in February 1981. Cercas is the recipient of many Spanish and international awards, including the Premio Salambó and the Premio Nacional de Narrativa in Spain, the International Foreign Fiction Prize in United Kingdom, the Grinzane Cavour in Italy and the Athens Prize for Literature in Greece. A regular contributor to the Catalan edition of El País, he lives in Barcelona.

You’ll see from the video of our conversation that Cercas has much to say about how and why democracies should remember their past - and why it’s a politically hot and tricky subject:

If radio’s your thing, please listen to the ABC audio version here:

And if you’d like to watch some footage of the so-called 23-F military occupation of the Spanish parliament it’s here:

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