This is a many layered, intriguing “story”. I deliberately use inverted commas as it recounts the life of Enric Marco, who fought with the Republicans and was deported to Flossenburg concentration camp.
Except all this was fabricated by Marco who for 50 years was no more than a garage mechanic in Barcelona and acquiesced to Franco. It’s a most extraordinary fabrication and Cercas spends some time in explaining how he got away with it. It was explicable by Marco’s seductively charlatan personality, a reluctance to challenge him as Marco went on to become President of the Matthausen (a concentration camp) Amical and secretary general of the CNT union.
He was eventually outed when he was going to give a speech at Matthausen alongside the Spanish Prime Minister Zaperato.
A film was made about Marco and he was already outed by a journalist called Bolmejo before Cercas, a noted Spansh writer, agreed to interview him and write his story. Cercas spends time – too much in my opinion – on what is fiction. He frequently compares Marco to another fantasist Don Quixote.
I had some difficulty with this comparison. There is a world of difference between a creative writer and a man who in real life invents his whole story which could only be offensive to those that genuinely fought for the Republican cause or worse suffered horribly in the camps. Marco’s defence is that he was shedding light on the holocaust and it matters not that the nearest he got to a concentration camp was a jail in Kiel and he decidde to volunteer to work in Germany as part of a Nazi/Franco working initiative.
The book is extremely well translated and – whilst Cercas’ deliberations on what is fact and what is fiction creates longeurs – I found it an enthralling read not merely for the extraordinary story but for the background of Spain over the last 95 years.