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Author Jorge Semprun dies in Paris, aged 87

AFP/Frank Perry

French and Spanish politicians and cultural figures on Wednesday paid tribute to Jorge Semprun, the Spanish writer and former culture minister who died overnight in Paris at the ago of 87. Semprun, who was born into a Spanish Republican family, spent much of his life in exile in France and wrote in French.


Semprun was “one of the last great participants in a tragic but brilliant epoch in the intellectual and literary history of our country”, President Nicolas Sarkozy said, pointing out that he had become a critic of Stalinism after his experiences as a Communist Party member.

 Semprun was culture minister in Spain's Socialist government from 1988 to 1991.

French Socialist Jack Lang, who was culture minister in Paris at the time, recalled an “exciting period” when they formed “an inseparable duo” who “gave a new élan to the Europe of culture”.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero hailed “one of Europe’s great democrats”, a “magnificent writer” and a “participant in the great historic upheavals of the 20th century”.

French author Erik Orsenna called Semprun “a big brother and at the same time a great Spaniard”.

Semprun wrote 22 books and 16 film scripts, working with directors Alain Resnais and Costa-Gravas, who on Wednesday described him as “a man of perfect intellectual honesty”.

Politics and literature were inextricably mingled in Jorge Semprun’s life story. He spent much of his life in exile and some of it in a concentration camp, returned to Spain when democracy was restored but came back to Paris in his old age.

Here are some of the key events in his life:

  • 1923: Born in Madrid, the son of politician and lawyer Jose Maria Semprun and Susana Maura, the daughter of former liberal prime minister, Antonio Maura;
  • 1936: Revolt led by fascist General Francisco Franco begins the Spanish civil war;
  • 1937: Family leaves Spain for the Netherlands, where Jose Maria is the republican ambassador;
  • 1939: Republican representation closed, family moved to France – Jorge goes to school at Paris lycée Henri IV – war breaks out;
  • 1940: Jpins French resistance;
  • 1942: Joins Spanish Communist Party (PCE) in exile;
  • 1943: Captured by Germans and sent to Buchenwald concentration camp;
  • 1945: Participates in uprising as allied troops approach Buchenwald, freed, returns to Paris, becomes a translator at Unesco and continues political activity with the PCE;
  • 1953-1962: Works full-time organising and participating in PCE activities within Spain;
  • 1964: Expelled from PCE for “deviating from the party”, dedicates his life to writing;
  • 1969: Femina prize for La deuxième mort de Ramon Mercader (The second death of Ramon Mercader);
  • 1975: Death of Franco, followed by the return to democracy;
  • 1982: Spanish Socialist Party (Psoe) elected to government;
  • 1988: Appointed culture minister in Psoe government;
  • 1991: Resigns from government after differences with Psoe number two, Alfonso Guerra;
  • 1994: German publishers’ and bookshops’ peace prize for L’Ecriture ou la vie (Writing or life);
  • 1996: Elected to the Académie Goncourt;
  • 2004: Prix Ulysse for his life’s work;
  • 2011: Dies peacefully in Paris, aged 87.

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