Cercas, Javier. “The Impostor: A True Story”, translated by Frank Wynne, Knopf, 2018.
An Infamous Fraud
“The Imposter” is “a propulsive and riveting narrative investigation into an infamous fraud: a man who has been lying his entire life.”
Enric Marco is an elderly man in his nineties, living in Barcelona and claims to be a Holocaust survivor. He has given hundreds of speeches, granted dozens of interviews, received important national honors, and made government officials shed tears. But in May 2005, Marco was exposed as a fraud. It seems that he was never in a Nazi concentration camp. The story went global and Marco was transformed from hero to villain.
Marco also claimed to be a veteran of the Spanish Civil War, a fighter against fascism, an impassioned campaigner for justice. “The Imposter” is part narrative, part history, part essay, part biography, part autobiography and it author Javier Cercas unravels the mystery of the man. He explores “the ambiguous aspects of what makes us human – our infinite capacity for self-deception, our need for conformity, our thirst for affection and our conflicting needs for fiction and for truth.” This is a “charged examination of a surpassingly strange matter and of the masks and fictions we construct.”
The analysis of post-Franco Spain is a wonderful way to understand this complex period. Did the climate of the country have anything top do with the methods of the deceiver and/or the willingness of the deceived to accept such untruths.
Cercas tells Marco’s story with great skill as seen in his impressive detective work and its ironic that it is sometimes amusing and sometimes appalling. In looking at Marco’s deception, we face the dilemma of the justifiable lie, and the collective lies Spain told itself as she moved from dictatorship to democracy.
The book also looks at the nature of fiction and how it can infiltrate life and upset it. We read about a culture in which truth is less important than appearance and to perform is the best way of being and living. Cercas maintains that fiction has replaced reality in the world we live in and that we have no real interest in average people from the real world.
Marco’s story becomes the basis for a “penetrating meditation on truth and story-telling, identity and self-fashioning.”
Today, Marco is unrepentant about his fabricated stories and ‘The Imposter’ exposes his reasoning, and his claim that he is am imposter and not a fraud. While writing this book, Javier Cercas interviewed Marco and people who knew him to try and uncover the man behind the myth and he writes at length about the philosophical and moral issues that Marco’s situation raises and the line between fiction and truth, whether that is in attempting to understand Marco and the question about whether Marco’s constructed past had a positive effect in helping to keep the memories of those lost in the Holocaust alive.
The philosophical questions Cercas that raises about truth, identity and how we present ourselves in our own lives will keep you thinking.