A true tale that’s stranger than fiction

In his book ‘The Impostor’ Spanish writer Javier Cercas explores the life of Enric Marco, who claimed to be a concentration camp survivor but who was actually weaving a web of lies

There is plenty of fiction in The Impostor, but none of it is written by Javier Cercas. The invented truth in this remarkable book comes from its eponymous protagonist, a Catalan who enjoyed the admiration of many Spaniards throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s, until his unmasking in 2005 by a little-known historian. Enric Marco is not a fictional character – he’s now 96 years old – so this book is, in a sense, a true story. But many of the tales he very publicly told during those three decades were pure fantasy.

Taken together, they describe (or rather would have described) a life of bravery and defiance – a life that is carefully retold by Cercas in this fascinating book, which was published in English last year. But it’s not just in the meticulous unraveling of his subject’s invented past that the writer’s achievement consists; it’s also in placing Marco’s deception in its historical context. In doing so, Cercas offers compelling insights into a period of Spanish history that can be difficult for non-Spaniards to understand – namely, the Transition from dictatorship to democracy after the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

Sign up to our newsletter: