Semprun biographer Soledad Fox Maura to speak at Northshire Bookstore

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MANCHESTER — Growing up as the daughter of a college professor, the works of Jorge Semprun, a cousin of her mother, adorned the walls and bookshelves of Soledad Fox Maura's home. At the time, the importance of the books was, perhaps, unrealized. When Fox Maura attended college, the significance of the works became evident and yet she still had no sense of what Samprun would come to mean to her in the years ahead.

Now a professor of Spanish and comparative literature at Williams College, as well as being an accomplished biographer, Fox Maura has spent the past six years of her life researching and writing about Semprun's life in her latest work "Exile, Writer, Soldier, Spy: Jorge Semprun" which she will present at Northshire Bookstore on Friday at 6 p.m.

The research for the biography required extensive traveling and drew on sources from Spain, Russia, France and the United States. Throughout the process, Fox Maura interviewed nearly 50 people, meeting family members of Semprun's, as well as colleagues that had known him best.

"I was curious to know what they thought about him at the end of the day," Fox Maura said. "What had he meant to them? What kind of impact had he had on their lives or on their political projects or their artistic projects? So getting access to these people was very difficult and it took a long time."

Semprun's life was colorful, tragic at times, but full above all else. During the rise of Gen. Francisco Franco in Spain during the 1930s, the Semprun family was exiled to France where Semprun spent the majority of his life. In 1942, he joined the Spanish Communist Party in France and was reassigned to the French armed Resistance. The following year, he was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to Buchenwald concentration camp for his role in the Resistance. After the camp was liberated, Semprun returned to France in 1945 and became an active member in the exiled Communist Party of Spain, eventually becoming an organizer of the parties' activities from 1953 until 1962 under the name of Federico Sanchez.

After he was expelled from the party in 1964, Semprun began focusing on his writing career. Semprun wrote many novels, plays and screenplays. His two most notable film works were "Z" (1969) and "The Confession" (1970), both of which focused on the theme of persecution by governments. In 1970, Semprun was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for his work on "Z".

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Fox Maura met Semprun while in Paris after he had gained recognition for his writing and film career. Fox Maura said she became star struck and froze. Looking back on the experience, especially now in light of Semprun being the subject of her most recent work, she laughed and said the thing about the experience that stood out the most was the fact that she did not ask a barrage of questions.

Encapsulating a life so full and vibrant is no small undertaking. Yet, after six years spent researching, traveling to various corners of the globe to conduct interviews, obtaining documents and sifting through a wealth of information, Fox Maura was able to produce a work that she felt embodied the man and his life.

"It's not an authorized biography. It's the book that I wanted it to be," said Fox Maura. "I wanted it to be a serious biography and I wanted it to be a biography that showed all of his sides that I had access to. I think he's a complicated man; a multifaceted man. So, I certainly tried to be as honest as I could and let the materials from my research speak for themselves."

While Fox Maura is not sure what to expect from the event at Northshire Bookstore, she believes that Semprun's life and work are particularly relevant in today's political climate.

"I think that all of these subjects, political activism and borders and refugees and what to do with them. these are all issues that are so important today and it's something that when I was writing the book I was thinking what a modern hero he was, as in a contemporary hero," she said. "I think if he were alive today he would be, probably, horrified by a lot of things including ... the plight of refugees all over world and the way they're being treated.

"I think he's a great writer in addition to having had this amazing life and so I think he's somebody who is really worth reading now and that there's kind of a true relevance to the issues that he really grappled with full time."


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