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An Unwritten Story

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The story that Javier Cercas didn't include in his Soldados de Salamina

[Translation of La historia que no incluyó Javier Cercas en "Soldados de Salamina" by Juan José Payá in Azorín Periodista on 29-Mar-2006. Juan Jose Paya Rico.]

War is a mirror which reflects the hidden and wicked face of mankind. War is destruction, death, annihilation and suffering. Wherever there is a war, the repercussions and consequences are the same: silence of those fallen in battle and the desperate mourning of the families embracing the lifeless bodies of their sons, fathers, brothers...

In spite of this, in the midst of the nightmare of blood and hate that we call war, armed conflicts involve actions, events and moments that bring hope to our hearts. There are always anonymous combatants from one side or the other who put their own lives at risk with the aim of helping, saving or hiding some other person who would otherwise be shot, killed or tortured.

A few days ago I heard one of these stories on Cadena Ser (Spanish news and broadcasting organization). A woman called the radio station and talked in a crisp and halting voice. She told the story of her grandfather who was a Republican town mayor during the Spanish civil war, and who had been transporting arms to the local front at Talavera de la Reina throughout this battle. After this battle had finished he was on his way back to his village; old, tired, anxious to embrace and kiss his family, heartily sick of the blood and the brutality... In order to speed his journey, which would otherwise have been on foot, he was picked up by a truck which was carrying some “peasants” who happened to belong to the National side.

The soldiers who were supporting Franco were celebrating their victory at the tops of their voices. They were singing, shouting and making fun of all the Republican bodies that lay on the ground, abandoned and bloody. And from insults, they went to to actions. They demanded that the depressed and retiring town mayor kiss their crucifixes, one of the symbols of Franco. When the mayor objected they began to think of vengeance. They talked about getting the mayor drunk by force, and as the truck crossed the river Tajo, they would push him out into the void and so get rid of him.

However, one of the National soldiers who was also travelling in the truck interceded in favour of the mayor in a clear, loud and authoritative voice, saying, “We picked up this man in order to return his to his house”. Everyone fell silent and the wicked idea of killing him evaporated. The Republican mayor was saved to silently and tearfully embrace his family in the warmth of his house.

The slight man who saved the Republican mayor from an unjust and unfair death has been anonymous all these years. But the woman who called the radio station said that her grandfather had told her that his name was Paco Cercas, the grandfather of the well known author, Javier Cercas.

The team at Cadena Ser immediately contacted the Catalan writer who was in his car coming back from a presentation. His emotion and evident joy moved the hearts of all who were listening to the programme.

That lovely story, which Javier Cercas never included in his successful novel, the Soldiers of Salamis (Soldados de Salamina), affected me greatly. It was like a tonic that renewed my strength to continue with my thesis. And I continue my work, convinced that hundreds of stories like that of Cercas remain, still waiting to be discovered, and which makes my effort worthwhile.

Juan José Payá Rico (born May 1983). Student of Journalism. Weekend sports writer in the “Información” newspaper of Alicante since 2004. Senior writer in the magazine “Panorama en Azul” produced under the auspices of the Caja de Ahorros del Mediterráneo (CAM) since 2005. Editorial writer on historic and literary subjects. Currently engrossed in the preparation of his doctoral thesis on the Civil War in the Bajo Vinalopó (“La Guerra Civil en el Bajo Vinalopó”) in which he is trying to rescue the names of all the participants of both sides from oblivion.

Update: Author's reaction:

Siempre es un motivo de orgullo -que jamás había experimentado- el hecho de que un compañero anónimo se interese por algún trabajo personal y pida tu permiso para su traducción. Agradezco profundamente el trabajo de Richard Blazek así como la labor e iniciativa de su web



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