Soldados de Salamina


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A translation of an excerpt of Soldados de Salamina by Javier Cercas

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Soldados de Salamina

  1. 1. Mason 1Jessie MasonGillian PriceSPAN 4040Final TranslationTranslator‟s NoteJavier Cercas‟ novel Soldados de Salamina followed me for a good six months before Ibegan to translate it. I had read the novel and watched the movie for classes, Iowned a copy ofthe book that floated between bookshelf andnightstand, and I found out that the author himselfwas giving a talk at my university. So, in making the decision of which text I wanted to translate,I didn‟t really have a choice. It was Soldadosor bust.In addition to this novel being beautifully written, it eloquently tackles one of the mostdivisive issues in Spain – the Spanish Civil War. The conflict between the Republicangovernment and the rebel Nationalist forces pitted brother against brother, and the effects of thewar ravaged the country for years. While Rafael Sánchez Mazas was only one man, his storyshows the war from a the perspective of a literary and political giant, someone whose desperationand fear moved him to action – action which was the difference between life and death.I ran into some interesting problems in translating this novel. First, the section that Ioriginally wanted to translate was much longer than what I ended up completing. I intended tonarrate Sánchez Mazas‟ journey from the CárcelModelo de Madrid all the way to the definingmoment of the novel: after running from a firing squad, he hides in the woods and is discoveredby a young soldier, but the soldier doesn‟t turn him in and instead lets him go free, allowing himto be reunited with the Nationalist forces. I tried to cut out a section of his journey in the middlein order to unite the beginning of the story with the end, but there wasn‟t a good section to get rid
  2. 2. Mason 2of without compromising the integrity of the tale. Every word, every piece of information thatCercas includes is important. Since I couldn‟t fit the end of the story of Sánchez Mazas‟ escapeinto this translation, I instead focused on presenting a well-rounded, informative description ofthe events leading up to his escape.One thing I battled with was deciding how much to footnote. The average Spanish readerwould most likely know who IndalecioPrieto, and Manuel Azaña were, in the same way that theaverage American would recognize names like George Washington, or Ben Franklin. However,the sheer number of people involved in the conflictand with the generally confusing airsurrounding the events of the war, made it necessary, in my opinion, to give some biographicalinformation about each major player referenced in the novel so that the reader understands who‟sdoing what. I will also take this moment to cite Wikipedia as the source for all of my footnoteinformation; I was not as well-versed in Spanish history as I originally thought.There is one phrase from this translation that I am sure will bother me for the rest of myexistence – in a description of a picture of Sánchez Mazas, there is a “cazo de hambre” sitting ona table. Literally, this translates to something like “a bucket of hunger,” but I couldn‟t settle on afixed equivalent in English. I‟m almost comfortable with what I ended up with – “a bucket,containing nothing but hunger” – as it preserves the sense of emptiness as well as the alliterationof the original, but I can‟t help but feel there is some exact phrase for it out there somewhere.Like the actions of the Greeks in the title-referenced Battle of Salamis, the actions ofSánchez Mazas helped preserve his own life and allowed him to continue fighting for what hebelieved. It is my hope that this translation has overcome the language, cultural, and knowledgebarriers surrounding the war and the stories of it, and gifted the unforgettable story of SánchezMazas to the English reader.
  3. 3. Mason 3Soldiers of SalamisIn that moment, Sánchez Mazas1vanished. We can try to reconstruct the events thatoccurred during the months prior to the conflict and during the three years that he spent alonethrough partial accounts – fleeting allusions in memories and documents of the time, oralaccounts of those who shared snippets of his adventures, memories of family and friends towhom he told his memories – and through the veil of a legend full of misunderstandings,contradictions, and ambiguities that was fed by the selective loquacity of Sanchez Mazas duringthis turbulent period of his life. So then, the following may not be what actually happened, but itis what appears plausible; I do not offer hard facts, but reasonable conjectures.They are:In March of 1936, Sánchez Mazas was imprisoned in the CárcelModelo de Madrid2withhis companions from the Junta Política3. His fourth son Máximo was born, and Victoria Kent,the seasoned Director General of the prison system, granted the prisoner three days so that hecould visit his wife, on the condition that he give his word of honor that he would not leaveMadrid, and that he would return to jail after the agreed-upon time had passed. Sánchez Mazasaccepted the deal. However, according to another of his sons, Rafael, before leaving jail thewarden called Sánchez Mazas into his office. Between clenched teeth, the warden told him thathe saw dark things, and for that reason he suggested with half-spoken words “that it would servehim better to not return, and that he, for his part, would not put what one might call his bestefforts into his search and seizure”. Because it justifies the dubious subsequent behavior ofSánchez Mazas, it makes sense to doubt the truthfulness of this version; it also makes sense to1Rafael Sánchez Mazas - a Spanish nationalist writer and a leader of the Falange, a right-wing political movementcreated in Spain before the Spanish Civil War.2CárcelModelo de Madrid – the main men‟s prison in Madrid during the last quarter of the 19thcentury and the firsthalf of the 20thcentury.3Junta Politica – the political cabinet under Francisco Franco‟s regime
  4. 4. Mason 4imagine that it might not be false. What is certain is that Sánchez Mazas, forgetting the protestsof chivalry and heroism with which he illustrated so many pages of incendiary prose, broke hispromise and fled to Portugal. However, José Antonio4, who had taken the words of his deputyseriously and who judged this as a test of not only his honor, but that of the entire Falange,ordered Sánchez Mazas to return to Madrid from the jail of Alicante,5where his brother Miguelhad been transferred on the night of the 5thof June. Sánchez Mazas obeyed, but before he couldenter once more into the Modelo, the uprising broke out.The days that followed were confusing. Almost thee years later, Eugenio Montes, whomSánchez Mazas called “my best and most trusted comrade in the effort to put humanity in theservice of our Falange,” described, from Burgos6, the journey of his friend in the daysimmediately following the 18thof July as “the adventure of horses and hiding, with the redhenchmen chasing his heels.” The phrase is as bizarre as it is evasive, but perhaps it doesn‟tcompletely betray reality. The revolution triumphed in Madrid. Peoplepeoplekilled and werekilled in the ditches and in their homes. The government had lost control of the situation, and adeadly combination of fear and euphoria filled the air. The rebels proliferated in the houses; butin the streets, the military reigned. One night, in the beginning of September, incapable oftolerating the unease of the secrecy and the imminent presence of dangerany longer, or perhapsurged on by his friends or acquaintances that had run the risk of sheltering a fugitive of hiscaliberfor too long, Sánchez Mazas decided to leave his hideout, flee Madrid, and head for thezonanacional.74José Antonio Primo de Rivera y Sáenz de Heredia – Spanish lawyer, nobleman, politician, and founder of theFalange5Alicante – a city located on the eastern coast of Spain, 265 miles southeast of Madrid and 111 miles south ofValencia6Burgos – a city located in northern central Spain7zonanacional – the region of Spain under control of Francisco Franco and his regime
  5. 5. Mason 5Predictably, he did not succeed. The next day, before he could hit the streets, he wasdetained; the patrol demanded that he identified himself. With a strange combination of panicand resignation, Sanchez Mazas understood that he was lost.As if he wanted to silently saygoodbye to reality, during an interminable second of indecision he looked around him andalthough it wasn‟t even nine in the morning, in the Calle de la Montera8the shops had alreadyopened and the urgent hustle of the people of the city inundated the sidewalks while the harshsun announced another suffocating morning of that never-ending summer. In that moment thethree armed soldiers noticed a truck, stuffed with UGT9militants and bristling with rifles andcries of war that was headed to the Guadarrama border.Its bodywork daubed with signs andnames, among those that of IndalecioPrieto, who had just been named minister of Marine andAir10in the brand new government of Largo Caballero11. So, Sanchez Mazas planned andexecuted a desperate idea: he told the soldiers that he couldn‟t identify himself because he wasundercover in Madrid completing a mission that had been directly entrusted to him by theMinister of Marine and Air, and he demanded to be put in contact with him. Torn betweenbewilderment and suspicion/distrust, the soldiers decided to take him to the headquarters of theDepartment of General Security to make sure his implausible excuse was authentic; there,through anguished negotiation, Sánchez Mazas was able to speak to Prieto on the telephone – hewas interested in the situation, advised Sánchez Mazas to seek refuge in the Chilean Embassy,affectionately wished him goodluck; then, in the name of his old African friendship, ordered thatthey release him.8Calle de la Montera – a street in the seedier part of Madrid, home to pimps and prostitutes9UGT (Unión General de Trabajadores) – General Union of Workers; a major Spanish trade union, historicallyaffiliated with the Spanish Socialist Workers Party10Department of Marine and Air – concerned with the maritime and air force branches of the Spanish military11Largo Caballero – Spanish politician and trade unionist, leader of the Spanish Socialist Worker‟s Party and theUGT
  6. 6. Mason 6That same day, Sánchez Mazas was able to enter the Chilean Embassy, where he stayedalmost a year and a half. One photo survives from this time of confinement: Sánchez Mazasappears in the center of a circle of refugees, including the Falangist writer Samuel Ros; there areeight of them, all a little ragged and poorly-shaven, all excited. Dressed in a shirt that was oncewhite, with his Semeticprofile, his short-sighted glasses, and his broad forehead, Sánchez Mazasis leading elegantly on a table on which we can only see an empty glass, a piece of bread, abunch of papers (or books), and a bucket, containing nothing but hunger. The others are listeningto him read a fragment of Rosa Krüger, a novel that he wrote, or started to write, in those days toease the pain of imprisonment and distract his companions. It was published, unfinished, fiftyyears later, when its author was already long gone. Without a doubt, it is his best novel, and alsoa good novel, and also strange and almosttimeless, written in a Byzantine manner by someonewith the taste and sensibility of a Pre-Raphaelite12painter, with European vocation and patrioticand conservativecontent. Saturated with exquisite fantasies, with exotic adventures, with a kindof melancholy sensualitythrough which, with an exact and crystalline prose, he narrates the battleinside the protagonist where the two essential concepts that, according to the author, govern theuniverse,fight – good and evil –, as well as the final victory of the former, personified in a donnaangelicata named Rosa Krüger. It‟s astonishing that Sánchez Mazaswas able to isolate himselffrom the never-ending, noisy promiscuity that reigned in the embassy in order to write his book,but not that the fruit of this isolation carefully avoids the dramatic circumstances that surroundedits conception. After all, it would have been redundant to add to the tragedy of the war a story ofthe tragedy of the war. Apart from that, the apparent contradiction between the bellicoseFalangist ideas of Sánchez Mazas and his apolitical and embellished literary chores that had so12Pre-Raphaelite – formed in 1848 and widely regarded as the first avant-garde movement in art, they were a groupof English painters, poets, and critics who wanted art to return to the way it was before Raphael began painting
  7. 7. Mason 7preoccupied some of his readers resolves itself if we admit that both are opposing yet coherentexpressions of the same nostalgia: that of a world abolished, impossible and invented fromParadise, that of the sure hierarchies of an ancien régime that the inevitable winds of time haveswept away forever.As time passed and the blood and despair of the war increased, the situation in theembassies that had taken in fugitives of the republican-controlled Madrid became more and moreprecarious, and the fear of attacks grew stronger. It reached the point that everyone who had areasonable possibility of escape within their reach preferred to run the risk of the venture insearch for a secure refuge rather than prolong the anguished uncertainty being locked up andwaiting. Samuel Ros managed it;he arrived in Chile around the middle of 1937, and didn‟t returnto Spain until the following year. Motivated by the success of Ros, Sánchez Mazas tried toescape in the fall of „37. This part of his story was told with the help of a prostitute and a youngsympathizer of the Falange, whose family knew of Sánchez Mazas and owned (or had owned) atransportation factory. His plan consisted of reaching Barcelona, and, once there, getting the aidof the quintacolumna13to get in contact with the underground escape network and cross theFrench border. They executed this plan, andduring various days Sánchez Mazas traveled the sixhundred kilometers that separated him from Barcelona through backroads and trails,camouflaged among a shipment of rotten vegetables in the company of the prostitute and theyoungFalangist. Miraculously, they made it through all of the checkpoints, arriving safe andsound to their destination, with no more setbacks than a popped tire and a dog with anexceptionally good sense of smellthat put the fear of death into them. In Barcelona the threetravelers separated and, as planned, Sánchez Mazas was taken in by a lawyer working for the13quintacolumna – a term created by Nationalist General Emilio Mola. In 1936 he told a journalist that has his fourcolumns of troops approached Madrid, a “fifth column” of supporters inside the city would support him andundermine the Republican government from within – the term was widely used after that
  8. 8. Mason 8JMB, one of the numerous and unconnected Falangist factions that the quintacolumnahadscattered around the city. After giving him a few days of rest, the members of the JMB urgedhim to take command and,to prove his worth as the fourth-in-command of the Falange, reuniteall of the quintacolumnista groups, force them under the discipline of the party, ad make themcoordinate their activities. Maybe because his only worry up until this moment had beenescaping the zonaroja14and entering the zonanacional, or simply because he knew himself to beincapable of what they asked of him, the offer surprised him, and he rejected it, citing hisabsolute lack of knowledge of the situation of the city and the groups that operated in it.However, the members of the JMB, as young and daring as they were inexperienced, who hadawaited his arrival like a providential gift, insisted, and Sánchez Mazas had no choice but toaccept.In the days that followed, Sánchez Mazasmet with representatives from the other factionsof the quintacolumna.One morning, while he was making his way to Iberia, a bar in the middleof the city whose owner sympathized with the nationalist cause, he was detained by SIM15agents. We are now at the 29thof November, 1937; the versions of what happened after that daydiffer. There are some that claim that Father Isidoro Martín, who had been one of SánchezMazas‟ professors at the Real Colgeio de María Cristina in El Escorial, interceded in vain on hisbehalf before Manuel Azaña16, another of his former students. Julián de Zugazagoitia17, the samewho, when the war ended, Sánchez Mazas unsuccessfully tried to free from the firing squad,confirmed that he proposed a trade to Prime MinisterNegrín– Sánchez Mazas for the journalistFedericoAngulo, and that Azaña hinted at the convenience of trading the writer for some14zonaroja – the region of Spain under the control of the Republican government15SIM – Servicio de InformaciónMilitar, the intelligence agency and secret service of the Republicans16Manuel Azaña – president of the Republic17Julian de Zugazagoitia – a socialist politician, journalist, writer, and Minister of the Interior
  9. 9. Mason 9compromising manuscripts of his that were in the hands of the rebels. Another version says thatSánchez Mazas was never able to make it to Barcelona, because he took refuge in the PolishEmbassy after his time in the Chilean Embassy, and that he was attacked in the same momentthat Azorín18thought to free him from a death sentence. There are also those who say thatSánchez Mazas really was effectively traded in the midst of the war. The latter two hypothesesare erroneous; with almost complete certainty the first two are not. Anyway, the reality is that,after being detained by the SIM, Sánchez Mazas was taken to the ship Uruguay, anchored in theport of Barcelona and converted a while back into a floating prison, and afterwards taken to thePalace of Justice19, where he was put on tiral along with other quintacolumnistas. During thetrial, they accused him of being the supreme leader of the quintacolumna in Barcelona, whichwas false, and inciting the rebellion, which was true. However, and setting him apart from themajority of the accused, Sánchez Mazas was not condemned to death. The fact is strange; maybeonly an inquiry in extremis by IndalecioPrieto can explain it.At the conclusion of the trial, Sánchez Mazas was taken back to the Uruguay once more;he spent the months that followedin one of its cells. The conditions were not good: the food wasscarce; the treatment, brutal. News about the course of the warwas scarce, but there was enoughto satisfy the captives on the Uruguaythat the victory of Franco was close. On the 24thofJanuary, 1939, two days before Yagüe‟s20troops arrived in Barcelona, an unusual rumorsurfaced, and it didn‟t take long for the nervousness of the jailers to show. In one moment hethought they were going to free him; in the next he thought they were going to kill him. Themorning passed between these two anguished alternatives until, at three in the afternoon, a SIM18Azorín – the pen name of José Augusto Trinidad Martínez Ruiz, a novelist, essayist, and literary critic19Palace of Justice – the home of the court system20Juan Yagüe – one of the most important army officers on the Nationalist side, also known as the “Butcher ofBadajoz” for his actions during the war
  10. 10. Mason 10agent ordered him to leave his cell, and the boat, and get on a bus parked on the pier,wherefourteen other prisoners from the Uruguay werewaiting for him, along withthe Czech fromVallmajor, and the seventeen SIM agents charged with their custody. Among the prisoners therewere two women: Sabina González from Carranceja, and Juana Aparicio Pérez from Pulgar; alsopresent wereleading jonsista21José MaríaPoblador, an important player in the attempted coup inJuly of „36, and JesúsPascual Aguilar, one of the chiefs of the quintacolumna in Barcelona. Noone knew in that moment, but of all the male prisoners that made up the convoy, by the end ofthe week only Sánchez Mazas, Pascual, and Poblador would remain with their lives.21jonsista – a follower of the Juntas de OfensivaNacional-Sindicalista (Unions of National-Syndicalist Offensive),the national syndicalist movement in Spain