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Jorge Semprún Maura (born 10 December 1923 in Madrid) is a Spanish writer and politician. His mother, Susana Maura Gamazo was a daughter of Antonio Maura. From 1953 to 1962, during the era of Francisco Franco, Semprún lived clandestinely in Spain as an organizer for the exiled Communist Party of Spain, but was expelled from the Party in 1964. From 1988 to 1991 he served as Culture Minister of Spain. He was a screenwriter for two successive films by the Greek director, Costa-Gavras, dealing with the theme of persecution by governments, Z (1969) and The Confession (1970). For his work on Z, he won the Oscar for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium. In 1996, he became the first non-Frenchman elected to the Académie Goncourt, which awards an annual literary prize.



Jorge Semprún (1970)

His family moved to France in the wake of the Spanish Civil War, then to The Hague, where his father José María Semprún Gurrea (1893–1966) was a diplomat in the mission of the Spanish Republic in the Netherlands up to the beginning of 1939. After the Netherlands officially recognized the Franco government, the family returned as refugees to France, where Jorge Semprún enrolled at the Lycée Henri IV and later the Sorbonne. During the Nazi occupation of France, Semprún joined the Communist resistance group Francs-Tireurs et Partisans. [1] In 1943 he was arrested by the Gestapo and deported to the Buchenwald concentration camp.

In 1945 he returned to France and became an active member in the exiled Communist Party of Spain (PCE). From 1953 to 1962, he was an important organizer of the PCE clandestine activities in Spain, using the pseudonym of Federico Sánchez [2]. He entered the party's politburo (Comité ejecutivo) in 1956. But he was expelled in 1964 because of "differences regarding the party line," at which point he focused on his writing career.

He has written many novels, plays, and screenplays, for which he received several awards, including an Oscar in 1970 and the 1997 Jerusalem Prize. He was a screenwriter for two successive films by the Greek director, Costa-Gavras, dealing with the theme of persecution by governments, Z (1969) and The Confession (1970). For his work on Z, he won the Oscar for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.[3]

He was a member of the jury at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival.[4] From 1988 to 1991 he served as the Culture Minister of Spain.

In 1996, Semprún became the first non-Frenchman to become a member of the Académie Goncourt, which awards an annual literary prize for literature written in French. Jorge Semprún is honorary chairperson of the Spanish branch of Action Against Hunger.[5] He currently lives in Paris.

Style and themes

Semprún writes primarily in French and alludes to French authors as much as to Spanish ones. Most of his books are fictionalized accounts of his deportation to Buchenwald. His writing is non-linear and achronological. The narrative setting shifts back and forth time, exploring the past and future of key events. With each recounting, events take on different meanings. Semprún's works are also very self-reflexive, and his narrators explore the way events live on in memory and the means of communicating the atrocious events of the concentration camp to an audience who cannot conceive of that experience.

Semprún's writing in Spanish deals with Spanish subject matter, and includes two volumes of memoirs: Autobiografía de Federico Sánchez, about his clandestine work in and later exclusion from the Spanish Communist Party (1953-1964), and Federico Sánchez se despide de ustedes, which deals with his term of service as Minister of Culture in the second Socialist government of Felipe Gonzalez (1988-1991). A novel in Spanish, Veinte años y un día, is set in 1956 and deals with the treatment of recent history in Spain.

Selected works

Semprún's first book Le grand voyage (The Long Voyage, recently republished as The Cattle Truck) was published in 1963 by Gallimard. It recounts Semprún's deportation and incarceration in Buchenwald in fictionalized form. A feature of the novel, and with Semprún's work in general, is its fractured chronology. Ostensibly, the work recounts his train journey and arrival at the concentration camp. During the long voyage, the narrator provides the reader with flashbacks to his experiences in the French resistance and flashforwards to life in the camp and after liberation. It won the two literary prizes the Prix Formentor and Prix littéraire de la Résistance ("Literary Prize of the Resistance").

His Autobiografía de Federico Sánchez (Autobiography of Federico Sánchez) won the Prix Planeta in 1977, the most highly remunerated literary prize in Spain. In spite of the pseudonymous title, the work is Semprún's least fictionalized volume of autobiography[6], recounting his life as a member of the central committee of the Spanish Communist Party (PCE), and his undercover activities in Spain between 1953 and 1964. The book shows a stark view of Communist organizations during the Cold War, and presents a critical portrait of leading figures of the PCE, including Santiago Carrillo and Dolores Ibárruri.

What a Beautiful Sunday (Quel beau dimanche !), another fictionalized account of life in Buchenwald and after liberation was published by Grasset in 1980. It purports to retell faithfully what it was like to live one day, hour by hour, in the concentration camp, but like Semprún's other novels, the narrator recounts events that precede and follow that day. In part, Semprún was inspired by A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and the work contains a criticism of Stalinism as well as fascism.

Literature or Life was published by Gallimard in 1994. The French title, L'Ecriture ou la vie, might be better translated as "Writing or Life". Once again, Semprún explores themes related to deportation, but the focus is on living with the memory of the experience and how to write about it. Semprún revisits scenes from previous works and gives rationales for his literary choices.

See also

External links


  1. ^ More specifically, he came into contact with the FTP-MOI (Francs-tireurs et partisans-Main d'oeuvre immigrée) and joined the Spanish Communist Party in 1942; but, with the agreement of the FTP-MOI, he was assigned to a Buckmaster organisation, Jean-Marie Action
  2. ^ Cf. Autobiografía de Federico Sánchez
  3. ^ Internet Movie Database: Awards for Z (1969)
  4. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Jorge Semprún". Retrieved 2009-06-23.  
  5. ^
  6. ^ Alliès, Paul. "Jorge Semprun : une 'autobiographie politique'." Pôle Sud 1, no. 1 (1994), 11–21,
  • Johnson, Kathleen A. "The Framing of History: Jorge Semprun's La Deuxieme Mort de Ramon Mercader", in French Forum, vol. 20, n° 1, January 1995, p. 77-90.
  • Céspedes Gallego, Jaime, «André Malraux chez Jorge Semprún: l'héritage d'une quête», in Revue André Malraux Review, n° 33, Michel Lantelme (editor), Norman, University of Oklahoma, 2005, p. 86-101.
  • Céspedes Gallego, Jaime, «La dimensión biográfica de Veinte años y un día de Jorge Semprún», in Tonos. Revista Electrónica de Estudios Filológicos, n° 10, University of Murcia, José María Jiménez Cano (editor), November 2005, available on line:


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