cover image Lord of All the Dead: A Nonfiction Novel

Lord of All the Dead: A Nonfiction Novel

Javier Cercas, trans. from the Spanish by Anne McLean. Knopf, $26.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-525-52091-7

In this cleverly crafted memoir, Cercas (The Imposter) investigates the life of his great-uncle Manuel Mena, a right-wing Falangist who died in the Spanish Civil War’s Battle of the Ebro in 1938. His mother compares Mena, her uncle, to the pure and noble Achilles, “lord of all the dead,” in The Iliad. The left-leaning Cercas, however, contemplates whether he should write about the “shameful story” of Mena’s political motivations as a supporter of Spanish dictator Franco. Cercas shares his dilemma with friend David Treuba, filmmaker and fellow Francoist descendant, who accompanies him to Ibahernando, Cercas’s ancestral village. There, the duo films conversations with the remaining elder relatives and family friends who knew Mena as they struggle to understand why this “industrious, reflective and responsible adolescent” died supporting ideologies that betrayed the Spanish people. “Can you be noble and pure and at the same time fight for a mistaken cause?” Cercas asks. He investigates how people living in tumultuous times develop unexpected political allegiances—and looks at the unintended consequences of those circumstances. Over time, he grows to appreciate the personal and philosophical conflicts Mena faced amid political upheaval, concluding, “I had no right whatsoever to consider myself morally superior to him.” While reflecting on his own life and family, Cercas vividly portrays a complex figure. (Jan.)