Fictional Metabiography and El monarca de las sombras (2017) by Javier Cercas.

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Author: Javier Sanchez
Date: Spring 2021
From: South Atlantic Review(Vol. 86, Issue 1)
Publisher: South Atlantic Modern Language Association
Document Type: Article
Length: 7,602 words

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Sixteen years after the publication of his well-received Soldados de Salamina (2001), Spanish contemporary author Javier Cercas returns to the topic of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) with his new novel El monarca de las sombras (2017). (1) Simply stated, Soldados de Salamina dealt with the events that took place at the end of the Civil War regarding, on one hand, the attempted execution by firing squad of the poet and politician Rafael Sanchez Mazas and, on the other, the search to find the Republican soldier who spared Sanchez Mazas's life to obtain his version of the same episode. The self-reflective nature of the narrative, the interpretation of certain facts, the questioning of documents, the emphasis on the construction (rather than the uncovering) of historical events through writing (but without eliminating the claim to historical veracity) allowed this novel to be categorized as historiographic metafiction according to the definition of the term by theorist Linda Hutcheon. Mainly, the problematizing of historical writing (or historiography) in this novel became essential during discussions centered on the effort to recover historical memory at the beginning of the twenty-first century in Spain. Being so, it is not surprising that the latest novel by Cercas continues to reflect on the nature of historical writing.

However, my goal in this essay is not so much to associate El monarca de las sombras to the idea of historiographic metafiction but rather to fictional metabiography. Obviously, a reading of this novel could focus on historiographic metafiction. Nonetheless, and keeping in mind that biographical writing is intrinsically tied to historical representation, I would like to emphasize the particular elements that comprise El monarca as fictional metabiography. (2) Indeed, one of the main themes within the novel has to do with the crafting of Manuel Mena's biography, the protagonist's relative and a soldier for the Nationalist forces under General Francisco Franco. What I hope to demonstrate is that Cercas problematizes the biographical genre or biographical writing (as an extension of historiography) by using certain narrative strategies. The author employs metafictional devices including textual self-reflexivity and the layering of narrations. Also, Cercas presents a biographer as the main character (instead of the biographee) who relates the challenges he faces during the quest for historical information on his subject (finding data, interpreting it). The overall objective of this novel is to critique, subvert and problematize the traditional biographical genre. As an approach to my analysis I use terminology developed by narratology experts such as Ansgar Nunning and Julijana Nadj in their theoretical approaches to biography, metafiction, and memory studies. I also refer to theoretical notions on fiction presented by the author Javier Cercas in two of his collections of essays: El punto ciego and La verdad de Agamenon. A key idea to keep in mind is Cercas's notion of the novel as "un genero de generos," that is, a genre of genres or a versatile narrative that allows the inclusion (presence) of various types of texts in itself. Thus, the genre of...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A655503288