Sunday, September 07, 2008

"Guernica" : A Novel

The bombing of Gernika by the German Luftwaffe supporting the military revolt led by Francisco Franco continues to inspire artists around the world.

On this article published by The Oregonian you will learn about a novel written by Dave Boling that revolves around a Basque family from Gernika.

Here you have it:

'Guernica' novel traces Spanish Civil War through Basque family saga

Dave Boling brings his reporter's eye to a compelling exploration of a tragedy as experienced by one family

Sunday, September 07, 2008
Special to The Oregonian

On April 26, 1937, the German Luftwaffe bombed Guernica, the cultural center of the Basque people located in north-central Spain near the Bay of Biscay.

The raid, which served no strategic purpose, destroyed most of the city, left hundreds dead and wounded, and represented the zenith of barbarity in the Spanish Civil War, eventually won by the fascists.

Not long after the bombing, Pablo Picasso immortalized the calamity in a monumental painting, and that's all many of us really know of Guernica -- carnage and the huge canvas.

But who were the Basques killed or dispossessed in the raid? What were their traditions and stories? What was Guernica before its destruction?

In his debut novel, "Guernica," Dave Boling, a columnist for the Tacoma News-Tribune, explores these questions with a reporter's eye and a novelist's heart and imagination. The result is a wonderful and thought-provoking mini-epic packed full of fascinating, little-known European history, rich characters and empathy for the civilians who paid the awful price when a savage civil war visited them.

In "Guernica," Boling unfolds the Basque saga of the Ansotegui family from 1893 to 1940 in restrained yet evocative prose. Justo is the oldest of three brothers and assumes control of the family farm at age 15 after his mother dies and his father drifts away, insane with grief.

In the years before the plague of fascism spreads across Europe, Justo takes a wife, Mariangeles, and they have a beautiful daughter, Miren. Miren grows up, becomes a renowned dancer, and marries Miguel, an accomplished woodworker. Together, they all become one of the most beloved and respected families in Guernica. Boling, who married into a Basque family, deftly reveals the unique and colorful cultural traditions that defined the Basque people from that era.

Then comes worldwide depression, Francisco Franco, the civil war, the raid, and its devastating effect upon the Ansotegui family and the Basque people. By far the novel's best section is a tense 30-page depiction of the bombing, which many military historians consider the first instance of directly targeting a civilian population in an urban area. It would set the stage for World War II and much, much worse to come.

After the fires are extinguished and the bodies buried, what's left of the Ansotegui family must regroup and reclaim some semblance of a life amid war. Some choose to fight the fascists while others merely try not to starve.

If any criticism could be leveled against "Guernica," it's that a reader has no idea who the Spaniards are -- fascist or otherwise. With the exception of Picasso, a minor character who wasn't even living in Spain during the civil war, they are absent from the novel except for a few stock soldier/villains.

Despite this puzzling absence, Boling has written a fine first novel about one of the most mysterious and exotic peoples of Europe -- the Basques. They still inhabit the north-central part of Spain and make headlines in their (sometimes violent) attempts to gain independence. Their determination lives on, even after Guernica.

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