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The Anatomy of a Moment: Thirty-Five Minutes in History and Imagination Paperback – February 15, 2011

4.3 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The details and larger historic significance of the February 23, 1981, failed military coup "to protect" the Spanish monarchy against Spain's frail democracy continue to be elusive. This tour de force by Cercas brings all his novelist skills to bear as he probes an event not well-known to American readers. For those with a memory of the personages and events described, this book is definitive. Originally conceived as a novel to contain all the mythic dimensions of a fascist coup given additional life via the media (TV cameras captured the spectacle), this account's most striking aspect is the group portrait of the politicians and military personnel involved. Exiting prime minister Adolfo Suárez, handed the reins by his king five years before, is portrayed by turns as a JFK wannabe, a centrist phony, a stooge, an errand boy. Three-dimensional portraits are also painted of other big players, including Gen. Manuel Gutiérrez Mellado and the Communist Santiago Carrillo. Adding pained reflections on his father, a supporter of Suárez, Cercas conveys the complex levels of cronyism and the collective paranoia of post-Franco Spain as well as a study of modern European political power during the winding down of the cold war. (Feb.)
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Review

“One of the key works of Spanish language literature of our time” ―Alberto Manguel

“The best history book of the year.” ―Felipe Fernández-Armesto, Times Literary Supplement

“A masterpiece of twenty-first century European literature.” ―Jordi Gracia, El País

“One of Spain's best younger novelists... Mr Cercas has written a persuasive, brilliant and absorbing book that has more contemporary resonance than even he might have imagined.” ―Economist

“In this remarkable work of nonfiction, Cercas obsessively reconstructs the attempted coup in Spain on February 23, 1981, in which Lieutenant Colonel Antonio Tejero and a cohort of armed Civil Guards stormed into congress, holding it hostage.... Cercas writes that he originally tried to fictionalize the event and turn it into 'a strange experimental The Three Musketeers'; that's exactly how the book turned out, and didn't have to fictionalize a thing.” ―New Yorker

“When the historical going gets tough, as it invariably does here, Cercas the novelist gently leaves all the facts where Cercas the essayist found them, and creates by their side a kind of simulacrum of the moment--more supple and analytically pliable, capable of showing us more even if what we're looking at is ever so slightly different from the original…” ―Nation

“[A] tour de force... For those with a memory of the personages and events described, this book is definitive. … Cercas conveys the complex levels of cronyism and the collective paranoia of post-Franco Spain as well as a study of modern European political power during the winding down of the cold war.” ―Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Cercas provides a creatively imagined account of an event that should be instructive to students of evolutionary democracy... [A] dense narrative, but those who stick with it will become immersed in its near-hypnotic power.” ―Kirkus Reviews

“Enthralling… Cercas is a masterly storyteller… the book is rich with vivid images, paradox and action… He forces us to abandon the fiction, the legends of the coup, and look at the pictures and story anew in all their complexity.” ―Independent

“With this book… Cercas is not only writing a scrupulous, truthful account of the failed coup, he is helping to bring the tormented story of the Spanish Civil War to its conclusion at last. His subtle intelligence, narrative gifts and intellectual honesty are outstanding.” ―Telegraph

“Part detective story, part social history, [The Anatomy of a Moment], with its regressions and suppositions, reads like one of the best pieces of contemporary European literature we've been lucky enough to have translated into English… a remarkably compelling book.” ―The Awl

“A fascinating book. For those interested in Spanish history, and for those interested in a different approach to the novel, it proposes some intriguing questions.” ―QuarterlyConversation.com

“A brilliant reconfiguring of a key event in contemporary European history. Audacious and wholly fascinating.” ―William Boyd, author of Any Human Heart and Restless

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 403 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (February 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1608194914
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608194919
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1.2 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #665,127 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Darryl R. Morris on March 22, 2011
Format: Paperback
February 23rd, 1981. The Congress of Deputies, Spain's lower house of the legislative branch of government, is in the process of electing Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo as President of the Spanish government and Prime Minister of the country, replacing the controversial and almost universally reviled Adolfo Suárez, the first Prime Minister elected after the end of Franco's dictatorship. Calvo Sotelo needs a simple majority, which is all but guaranteed after he failed to win an absolute majority in an election held on February 20th.

There is a commotion outside of the chamber, causing the deputies to hold their breaths. Suddenly, armed members of the Guardia Civil, led by Lieutenant Colonel Antonio Tejero, rush into the room, and demand that the deputies duck for cover. Tejero stands before them and announces a coup d'état in opposition to democracy and the election of the new Prime Minister, as bullets fired by the Guardia Civil fly aimlessly about. Three men remain seated or standing throughout the chaos: Adolfo Suárez, who resigned a few weeks earlier; General Manuel Gutiérrez Mellado, the Deputy Prime Minister, who unsuccessfully attempts to order Tejero to drop his weapon and surrender, and is led to his seat by Suárez; and Santiago Carrillo, the leader of the Communist Party, whose organization was incorporated into the government by Suárez in 1977, an act that drew the ire of the military and led to the beginning of the opposition to Suárez that ultimately led to the coup.

The King of Spain, Juan Carlos I, gave a televised address before the country denouncing the golpistas. By that evening the bloodless coup fell apart, and the hostages were released the following morning.
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I will try to be understated, but this is a rave review. "The moment" of THE ANATOMY OF A MOMENT is the attempted coup d'etat ("golpe de estado" in Spanish) that occurred in Spain in February 1981, when a band of Civil Guards armed with automatic weapons took over the Spanish Parliament (the "Cortes"), interrupting voting on the next Prime Minister, and held all of the deputies hostage for eighteen hours. The failure of that golpe de estado, this book contends, is the most significant event in Spanish history since the Spanish Civil War. Arguably it even marked the end of the Spanish Civil War.

Javier Cercas initially set out to write a novel about the February 1981 golpe. But he abandoned that effort in favor of writing a history because "the events of 23 February on their own possessed all the dramatic force and symbolic power we demand of literature and I understood that, even though I was a writer of fiction, for once reality mattered more to me than fiction or mattered to me too much to want to reinvent it by substituting it with an alternative reality, because none of what I could imagine about 23 February concerned me and excited me as much or could be as complex and persuasive as the pure reality of 23 February." Hence, what we have in THE ANATOMY OF A MOMENT is a book of history written by a skilled writer of fiction -- an attempt to explicate reality with fidelity to the known (or most likely) facts and with a novelist's eye for drama, irony, nuance, and meaning.

By happenstance, the golpistas' commandeering of the Cortes on February 23, 1981 was captured on film for television (though, contrary to the "memory" of many Spaniards, it was not broadcast live).
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The Anatomy of a Moment by Javier Cercas is an attempt by the acclaimed novelist to pick apart the thirty-five minutes on February 24, 1981 in which members of the Spanish military stormed into parliament, took hostages, and sought to overthrow the democratically-elected government. Cercas analyzes the moment within several contexts- the political (the right's fight with the sitting prime minister), historical (Spain's history of coups and counter-coups), philosophical (the nature of democracy), psychological (why some prime ministers stood up against the military usurpers and others did not), and aesthetic (the entire moment was caught on tape with very intriguing visuals).

For people unfamiliar with late 20th Century Spanish politics (like myself) the book might at first seem daunting with so many unfamiliar names and events. However, Cercas does a good job turning these figures of Spanish politics into interesting characters whose motives are always a mystery. And that may be the strongest point of this book- Cercas takes a political/historical event and puts a novelists spin on it. Cercas strips away mundane political and historical nuances to get to universal themes such as courage to stand for one's beliefs, loyalty to friends, fear of death, fear of success, and the conflict between actions and intentions. The book is very readable, quick-paced, interesting, and always keeps you guessing. It is a history that reads like a novel and Cercas has done an amazing piece of genre-bending literature.
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