Former resident pens biography on historic figure

MIDDLEBURY — Soledad Fox Maura has fond memories of her formative years in Middlebury during the late 1960s and early 1970s. She attended Mary Hogan Elementary School through third grade. She got to meet many interesting students and academicians through her mom, Prof. Marisol Maura, who taught Spanish language, literature and history courses at Middlebury College. Her mom would occasionally have students over to the house for wine, cheese and animated discussions on topics ranging from the Spanish Civil War to the simmering civil unrest of the ’60s.
“My mother was a huge inspiration,” Fox Maura said during a recent phone interview.
So it’s no coincidence that Soledad Fox Maura has followed into her mom’s footsteps. She’s a professor of Spanish and Comparative Literature at Williams College. And she’s also an author who’ll be introducing her latest book on Thursday, Sept. 13, at 7 p.m. at the Vermont Book Shop, just a hop, skip and a jump from where her academic career began.
The book is a biography that’s been garnering some very good reviews. It’s called “Exile, Writer, Soldier, Spy: Jorge Semprún.”
While he’s not well known in the United States, Semprún was a major 20th-century figure in his (and Fox Maura’s) native Spain. As Fox Maura chronicles in her book, Semprún enjoyed a privileged childhood as the grandson of then-Spanish Prime Minister Antonio Maura. But as with many of his countrymen and women, his world was shattered by the onslaught of the Spanish Civil War. That’s when he went into exile in France, fighting with the French Resistance during World War II. He was captured during the conflict and sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar, Germany.
After the war, Fox Maura notes, Semprún became an organizing member of the exiled Spanish Communist Party, a move he thought could help him liberate Spain from then-dictator Francisco Franco. Semprún averted capture by Franco’s secret police. Semprún was expelled from the Communist Party in 1964, and Franco held control of Spain until his death in 1975.
That background on Semprún, in and of itself, would be enough to fill a book.
But there’s more.
Semprún would go on to serve as minister of in Spain’s socialist government, from 1988 to 1991. He became an internationally acclaimed author and screenwriter, nominated for the Academy Award for his work on the films “The War is Over” (1966) and “Z” (1969).
In addition to being distantly related to Semprún, Fox Maura found the man — whom she met before his death in 2011 — to be intriguing.
“I’m very interested in multi-cultural identities,” Fox Maura said. “Here you have this Spaniard who goes to France and tries to adapt as best he can to become French, ends up being deported to a German camp … The guy isn’t even 20 yet and all this has happened.”
Semprún died in 2011 with a rich and lengthy resume. A mentor urged Fox Maura to pen a biography about Semprún, whose place in Spanish history had become part of her teachings at Williams.
She thought long and hard about taking on such an assignment. After all, Semprún had written many autobiographical pieces. But autobiographies can omit the blemishes, she concluded.
“When painters do self-portraits, there’s a lot of self fashioning going on,” she said.
So Fox Maura plunged into the project, which included six years of research in archives in Moscow, Paris and in Spain.
“It was a hard story to tell, because he had so many different lives,” she said.
But Fox Maura believes she’s done a good job in presenting the man’s life. She hopes readers will enjoy learning about an important personage in Spain’s history.
“He had a very exciting life that should be fun to read,” she said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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