The Anatomy of a Moment Thirty-Five Minutes in History and Imagination

Javier Cercas

Bloomsbury USA




416 Pages



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In February 1981, Spain was still emerging from Franco's shadow, holding a democratic vote for the new prime minister. On the day of the vote in Parliament, while the session was being filmed by TV cameras, a band of right-wing soldiers burst in with automatic weapons, ordering everyone to get down. Only three men defied the order. For thirty-five minutes, as the cameras rolled, they stayed in their seats.

Critically adored novelist Javier Cercas originally set out to write a novel about this pivotal moment, but determined it had already gained an air of myth, or, through the annual broadcast of video clips, had at least acquired the fictional taint of reality television. Cercas turned to nonfiction, and his vivid descriptions of the archival footage frame a narrative that traverses the line between history and art, creating a daring new account of this watershed moment in modern Spanish history.

The Anatomy of a Moment caused a sensation upon its publication in Spain, selling hundreds of thousands of copies. The story will be new to many American readers, but the book stands resolutely on its own as a compelling literary inquest of national myth, personal memory, political spectacle, and reality itself.


Praise for The Anatomy of a Moment

"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."The 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…"The Nation

"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."The Economist

"One of the key works of Spanish language literature of our time."—Alberto Manguel
"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."—The 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."—The Daily Telegraph (UK)

"The best history book of the year."—Felipe Fernández-Armesto, The Times Literary Supplement (London)

"A masterpiece of twenty-first century European literature."—Jordi Gracia, El País

"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."—

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

"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

"[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

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Javier Cercas

  • Javier Cercas is the author of Soldiers of Salamis, The Tenant & The Motive and The Speed of Light. He has taught at the University of Illinois and for many years was a lecturer in Spanish literature at the University of Gerona. He lives in Barcelona with his wife and son.

    Anne McLean is the translator of works by Carmen Martín Gaite, Julio Cortázar, Ignacio Martínez de Pisón and Tomás Eloy Martínez. She has twice won the Independent Prize for Foreign Fiction: for Soldiers of Salamis by Javier Cercas in 2004 (which also won her the Valle Inclán Award), and for The Armies by Evelio Rosero in 2009.