Javier Cercas made his name writing about the moral confusion of warfare. Soldiers of Salamis(2003) saw him penetrate deep into the psychology of the Spanish Civil War. The novel, currently available in 15 languages, saw its author decorated by literary-prize judges across the world. Now he has an international platform from which to launch this very timely book: a European novel about the personal fall-out from the Vietnam war, published in the same month that the 43rd American President has conceded parallels between the Asian conflict he avoided and the Middle Eastern one he instigated.Read More
The Speed of Light begins in the 1980s. Our likeably pretentious hero graduates from the cynical young bohemianism of Barcelona to an unexpected job offer from an American university in Urbana, Illinois. He aspires to literary success. But he doesn't know how to play the American sophisticate. We cringe for his wrongness, his attention-seeking gaucheness.
On his first night, two of his new colleagues ask him for his view on the filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar. "Like everyone," he confesses, decades later, "I think I liked Almodóvar's films back then, but at that moment I must have felt an irresistible urge to try to sound interesting or make my cosmopolitan vocation very clear by setting myself apart from those stories of drug-addled nuns, traditional transvestites and matador murderers, so I answered, 'Frankly I think they're a pile of queer crap.' " There's a burst of savage laughter. The joke is on his homophobia. The men he is talking to are gay.
And our hero doesn't learn his lesson there. When he meets Rodney Falk, the lumbering Vietnam veteran with whom he will share an office, Falk asks for his view on Ernest Hemingway. "Frankly," he tells Falk, who is a Hemingway fan, "I think he's shit."
Despite this inauspicious beginning, the room-mates become friends, sitting twice weekly in a bar trading views on writers and writing. Falk's pronouncements become central to the young European's world view. Falk does not talk about his time in Asia, but his experiences of humanity at its least humane add weird weight to everything he says.
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