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Jorge Semprún

The Spaniard who Survived the Nazis and Conquered Paris

Soledad Fox Maura is Professor of Spanish, Comparative Literature, and affiliated faculty in the Jewish Studies Program at Williams College, Massachusetts. She is the author of two other books: A Spanish Woman in Love and War: Constancia de la Mora and Flaubert and Don Quijote: The Influence of Cervantes on Madame Bovary; and many articles and reviews. She has been interviewed by the BBC, Radio Sefarad, The New Yorker, El Mundo, El País, Europa Press, and Radio Nacional de España on her biographical work.

“The most complete portrait of an intense and complex life, a voyage through the 20th century seen through the eyes of one of Spain’s most internationally relevant and well-known intellectuals.” Andrés Seoane, June 6, 2016. El Cultural, El Mundo

Spanish by birth, Parisian by adoption, Semprún (1923–2011) was a legendary figure on the front lines of twentieth-century European history. During the first half of his life he was an exile of the Spanish Civil War, a member of the French Resistance, a Nazi camp survivor, and clandestine agent for the Spanish Communist Party. After repeatedly risking his life from the 1930s to the 1960s, he reinvented himself as a prolific writer who turned the extraordinary material from his own life into a series of autobiographical novels, beginning with The Long Voyage, his 1963 masterpiece about his deportation to Buchenwald.

Semprún was equally at home amongst the madrileños of his childhood, fellow prisoners of the Buchenwald concentration camp, politicians, and artists and writers, such as his close friend Yves Montand or Gabriel García Márquez. He is best known internationally as a prize-winning novelist and memoirist, and an Oscar-nominated screenwriter. In collaboration with Alain Resnais and Costa-Gavras he wrote the screenplays for, respectively, La guerre est finie and Z. In Spain, his extraordinary achievements were recognized when in 1988 he was named Minister of Culture.

The research for this biography draws on archival materials from Spain, France, Germany, the United States and Russia; it includes many interviews with family members, close friends, politicians, and artists including former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez, and film director Costa Gavras.

Published in association with the Cañada Blanch Centre for Contemporary Spanish Studies

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-851-0
Hardback Price: £60.00
Release Date: December 2017
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-852-7
Paperback Price: £25.00
Release Date: December 2017
Page Extent / Format: 320 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: Yes



I Origins
II Exile: 1936–1945
III Buchenwald
IV Return to France: Postwar, 1945–1952
V The Spanish Communist Years: 1952–1963
VI A Star is Born: 1963–1988
VII Return of the Prodigal Son, 1988–1993
VIII Minister of Culture
IX Paris Encore
X Biriatou-Garantreville


Jorge Semprún: The Spaniard who Survived the Nazis and Conquered Paris engages the reader from start to finish with the force of a good novel, whilst providing a valuable insight into the life and times of one of twentieth-century Spain’s most interesting, and yet unrecognized writers.
John McCullough, Bulletin of Spanish Studies, XCVI (2019)

After reading this lively and intriguing biography, I’m amazed that most of us know so little about Jorge Semprún, even though we’ve likely seen films that he inspired or wrote. This man of great zest, talent and courage who played so many roles in the crises of his time—underground resister, novelist, cabinet minister and more—reminds me of no one so much as André Malraux. It’s a pleasure to have his remarkable life now available to us in English.
Adam Hochschild, author of Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936–1939

Jorge Semprún packed four or five lives into one. Artist, prisoner, freedom fighter, diplomat, organizer—in his 87 years he quite literally embodied the story of a whole continent. Soledad Fox's superb biography tells his story with clarity, grace, and high style, just as Semprún lived. This is an essential book, biography and history told with novelistic precision.
Jonathan Blitzer, The New Yorker

Born in Spain to a family that fled the civil war, Jorge Semprún was successively a teenage exile in Paris, an anti-Nazi resistant, a Buchenwald camp survivor, a secret Communist agent, a convert to democracy, a Spanish government minister and, for half a century, an admired novelist, essayist and screenwriter. In this fascinating biography, Soledad Fox demonstrates how Semprún’s many lives not only fueled his writing, but also freed him to reinvent them as “auto-fiction.” No less important, Fox throws the spotlight on a man little known in the English-speaking world whose extraordinary life and literature mirror the multiple traumas of Europe’s 20th century.
Alan Riding, author of And The Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi-Occupied Paris

Reviewed by Daniela Omlor, University of Oxford, French History (December 2017)

Excerpts from reviews of the Spanish edition

The most complete possible portrait of an intense and complex life, a voyage through the 20th century seen through the eyes of one of Spain’s most internationally relevant and well-known intellectuals. Andrés Seoane, June 6, 2016. El Cultural, El Mundo

This is a very well written biography, thoroughly researched, and both passionate and dispassionate at the same time. Highly recommended.
José María Noguerol, Interviú, September 9, 2016

With the precision of a surgeon, Soledad Fox Maura . . . brings to life the voice of the unforgettable author of Le grand voyage, and former Minister of Culture. Josep María Cortés, Alternativas Económicas

This is an excellent biography that will be of great interest to all those readers who have been fascinated by the life and writing of Jorge Semprún. Soledad Fox Maura writes respectfully, but without shirking the controversial aspects of Semprún’s life. . . . And she brings new facts to light. . . . A good biography is one that transforms its subject into a person made of flesh and blood. The operation may cause certain readers to feel disenchanted. I am sure, however, that for most readers of this biography, the figure of Jorge Semprún will not lose any of its power. What is made clearer than ever is that Semprún had a very difficult life. He risked it on more than one occasion, and he always survived, something which would be unfair to hold against him. He lived intensely, on the front lines of the great upheavals of the European 20th century. And he then had the talent, the intelligence, and the knowledge to turn the ensemble of his books into one of the most accurate chronicles of the period. What would we know about the Europe we have just left behind without the work of Semprún, Koestler, London, and other survivors?
Agustí Pons, Nuvol, September 26, 2016

Professor Soledad Fox Maura has published ‘Ida y vuelta. La vida de Jorge Semprún’ (Debate), a biography of the former Spanish politician that aims to ‘humanize’ him and to recover the ‘recognition’ of his figure in Spain, where he was not always well received. . . . The author, a specialist in history and literature of the Spanish Civil War, struck upon her interest in this personality who was ‘an irresistible Pandora’s box’.
. . . Fox has interviewed nearly fifty people who knew Semprún, and the book has close to 400 footnotes. The author, who met the politician through mutual acquaintances, says that the book required a ‘total commitment’ on her part, and that she tried to ‘put together the jigsaw puzzle’ of someone who led multiple lives. Europa Press, Published in La Vanguardia, May 20, 2016

This biography dives into the secrets and pain of Jorge Semprún. Soledad Fox Maura has published a study that pays special attention to the childhood of the Spanish author and Buchenwald concentration camp survivor . . . His struggle was full of shadows; Fox unveils, diminishes, or disproves them.
Juan Cruz, El País, May 11, 2016

Soledad Fox Maura’s biography sheds light on the darker corners of this intellectual’s life, and puts words where there was only silence.
Javier Ors, La Razón, May 20, 2016

After years of research, Soledad Fox Maura has just published Ida y vuelta: La vida de Jorge Semprún (Debate/Penguin Random House), an up-to-date and complete biography of the Spanish writer, politician, and intellectual. Ida y vuelta offers a panoramic vision of Semprún, a complex figure who constantly played at inventing and reinventing himself; first, by becoming ‘Federico Sánchez’, and second, through literature. He turned his life into fiction, and fiction into life.
Anna María Iglesia, El Asombrario, El Público, September 9, 2016

This biography by Soledad Fox Maura, originally written in English . . . is a vindication of Semprún’s relevance . . . It is also a complement to what he tells in his own books. It fills in the gaps, and contextualizes his own memories.
Sara Barderas, DPA, Sin embargo, Mexico, May 21, 2016

Ida y vuelta. La vida de Jorge Semprún is the best biography written about Jorge Semprún. It is by Soledad Fox Maura and was published by Debate. Julia Sáez-Angulo, Euromundo Global, June 30, 2016

Soledad Fox Maura’s exhaustive and excellent research—over five years worth—covers the multifaceted and personal experiences of this emblematic protagonist of the 20th century. She raises a number of crucial questions, and offers many answers, all of which are backed up by primary materials, and an objective outlook. She is precise, inspiring, and her prose is fluid and a pleasure to read. A highly recommended volume, packed with exciting and emotionally charged events.
Jorge de Arco, Andalucía Información, September 28, 2016

Soledad Fox Maura says that when she reads Jorge Semprún she imagines a Humphrey Bogart-like narrator, an inscrutable hero with his trench coat collar turned up. But in real life nobody is like Bogart, not even Semprún . . . Hence this biography. Luis Alemany, El Mundo, May 22, 2016

In this biography, Soledad Fox Maura analyzes the life of this intellectual, who was also Minister of Culture, and who ‘loved Spain more than it loved him’.
Manel Manchón, Economía Digital, July 1, 2016

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