Javier Cercas

Portrait Javier Cercas
© Hartwig Klappert

Javier Cercas was born in Ibahernando/Cáceres, Spain in 1962. After two years of teaching at the University of Illinois, USA, he has been Professor of Spanish Literature at the University of Gerona since 1989. He has published literary works, translations, and essays and writes a regular column for »El País.«

His first collection of short stories, »El móvil« (tr: The Motive), was published in 1987, followed two years later by his first novel, »El Inquilino« (1989; Eng. »The Tenant and the Motive«, 2005), about literature professor Mario Rota, who is confronted with his fears in the vain, competitive microcosm of an American university. Suddenly Mr. Berkowickz appears, who first moves into the neighbouring apartment, then takes over Rota’s lectures and ultimately steals his girlfriend. Cercas uses irony to play with the classic doppelgänger motif. Self-referential remarks to writing and literature itself are also at the core of his other works. The novel »Soldados de Salamina« (2001; Eng. »Soldiers of Salamis« 2004), won multiple awards, including the Premio Salambó, and was filmed by David Trueba. The novel is about research into a historical event that took place during the Spanish Civil War: Rafael Sánchez Mazas, co-founder of the fascist Falange, managed to escape from a pro-government firing squad because his pursuer let him go. The narrator, a journalist and unsuccessful writer, sets out to find this unknown soldier, fixated on writing a »narrative according to reality«. By means of the narrative strategy of letting the reader participate in the creation of the novel, Cercas reflects on the question of truth and falsification, documentation and fiction. He concludes, »Literary truth is not historical truth, nor journalistic truth: it is another kind of truth, more universal and valuable; it is a moral, poetic truth.« Cercas’ »Anatomía de un instante« (2009; Eng. »The Anatomy of a Moment«, 2011) is presented as a documentary essay on the coup attempt by the Spanish military on February 23, 1981. This was followed by the novel »Las leyes de la frontera« (2012; Eng. »Outlaws«, 2014). Against the backdrop of Spanish history since the 1960s, Cercas depicts the development of two childhood friends, Zarco and Ignacio, one of whom becomes a felon while the other makes a career as a lawyer. »Die Welt« judged the work as »A cleverly composed book that resonates for a long time.« »El impostor« (2014; Eng. »The Imposter«, 2017) focuses on a real person: Enric Marco. The protagonist posed as a concentration camp survivor until it turned out in 2005 that his story of suffering was a lie. Layer by layer, Cercas uncovers the historical, political, and psychological aspects of this case. The novel was awarded the European Book Prize in 2016. His most recent publication is the crime novel named for a region in northeastern Spain, »Terra Alta« (2019; Eng. 2022). Protagonist Melchor Marín, formerly at home in the underworld, works there as a police officer. When the investigation of a brutal murder of a business couple comes to nothing, he tries to solve the case on his own. The novel was awarded the Premio Planeta, the most prestigious literary prize in the Spanish-speaking world.

Javier Cercas lives in Gerona.