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Guernica: A Novelby Dave Boling
Synopses & Reviews
An extraordinary epic of love, family, and war set in the Basque town of Guernica before, during, and after its destruction by the German Luftwaffe during the Spanish Civil War.
Calling to mind such timeless war-and-love classics as Corelli's Mandolin and The English Patient, Guernica is a transporting novel that thrums with the power of storytelling and is peopled with characters driven by grit and heart.
In 1935, Miguel Navarro finds himself in conflict with the Spanish Civil Guard, and flees the Basque fishing village of Lekeitio to make a new start in Guernica, the center of Basque culture and tradition. In the midst of this isolated bastion of democratic values, Miguel finds more than a new life — he finds someone to live for. Miren Ansotegui is a charismatic and graceful dancer who has her pick of the bachelors in Guernica, but focuses only on the charming and mysterious Miguel. The two discover a love that war and tragedy can not destroy.
History and fiction merge seamlessly in this beautiful novel about the resilience of family, love, and tradition in the face of hardship. The bombing of Guernica was a devastating experiment in total warfare by the German Luftwaffe in the run-up to World War II. For the Basques, it was an attack on the soul of their ancient nation; for the world, it was an unprecedented crime against humanity. In his first novel, Boling reintroduces the event and paints his own picture of a people so strong, vibrant, and proud that they are willing to do whatever it takes to protect their values, their country, and their loved ones.
"Examining the Spanish Civil War and the town that was famously firebombed by the Germans on the eve of WWII, this multigenerational family saga begins with the three abandoned Ansotegui boys, struggling to survive on the family farm at the end of the 19th century; younger brothers Josepe and Xabier become a fisherman and a priest, respectively, while the eldest, Justo, marries and raises a stunning daughter named Miriam. Charismatic, beautiful and the best jota dancer around, Miriam attracts the attention of Miguel Navarro, who winds up moving them to ill-fated Guernica after a run-in with the Spanish Civil Guard. Meanwhile, in nearby Bilbao, Father Xabier waxes political with real-life future Basque president Jos Antonio Aguirre, striking up an invaluable friendship. Boling's portrait of the Guernica tragedy is vivid, as is his illustration of the Basque people's oppression; wisely, he sidesteps elaborate political explanations that could slow the family drama. Boling is skillful with characters and dialogue, possessing a great sense of timing and humor, though some historical cameos feel forced (especially Picasso, who pops up throughout), and some plot twists can be seen from quite a long way off. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
A sense of menace hangs over the opening of "Guernica." We know the "what" of events to come, but not the "how." And it is the "how" of this book that comes alive through Dave Boling's creation of several generations of Basque families in northern Spain during the civil war of the 1930s. As fascism rises in Europe, citizens who once believed themselves to be safe in their own countries are suddenly... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) compelled to flee. Spaniards, including Basque citizens, pour into France from the south. Resistance movements arise. Endangered German and French citizens, often including artists and intellectuals, are smuggled into Spain and then on to Portugal as a departure point towards any country that will accept them. Miguel Navarro, a young man who has never been comfortable at sea on the family fishing boat, finds himself in danger from the Guardia Civil and must leave his village of Lekeitio. He makes his way to Guernica, the center of Basque culture, and there he meets Miren Ansotegui, a beautiful dancer who is loved by her prominent family and the people of the town. Thus begins the love story in "Guernica," a novel that is, at first glance, about extremes: The women are beautiful, the men brave, family ties unbreakable, and political parties all-powerful. But Boling threads his way through the stories of his many characters with humor, compassion and rich details of Basque tradition. The literary risks Boling takes include interspersed passages told from the point of view of two historical figures: Picasso and Wolfram von Richthofen of the German Luftwaffe. Lt. Col. von Richthofen commands fliers of experimental bombers; at the invitation of Franco, he tests his bombing tactics in the skies above Guernica on April 26, 1937. A cousin of the Red Baron, von Richthofen is portrayed as cold and efficient. For his efforts, the Fuhrer rewards him with a new Mercedes-Benz roadster. The legacy of Richthofen's methods now exists as a tragic part of Spanish history. As for the Picasso passages, they appear intrusive at first. There is a sense that this is not Picasso's story, at least not yet, though it becomes so in the end. Overall, the novel is about loss, but also about loss' counterpoints, love and endurance. The description of the bombing of Guernica is so moving, so detailed and sad that it becomes almost unbearable. By this point in the story, we're so familiar with the families of the town that we are pulled to the depths of their tragedy and pain. Boling is remarkably able to depict this, grimly and without sentimentality. His understanding of what it is to be deeply traumatized is exactly right, as in this passage about Miguel, days after the bombing of the town: "To walk through the town carried the risk of having to talk. And he found himself losing the knack. Ventures in public forced him to rise to the surface, while the rest of his time was spent at some subsurface level, lost in thought or dreaming. If he could stay away from people, his days were less complicated. Not easier, because it all felt like wading through a viscous twilight, but less complicated. For long stretches, he wouldn't realize his distance from consciousness until he tried to say something, to the squirrels or to the fish he'd caught, and was surprised by the words coming out in a coughing sound, as if dust and cobwebs had collected in his throat." Boling skillfully ties in far-reaching but intersecting activities over a broad landscape of warring Europe. Some of the surviving Basque children, many of them babies, are evacuated to Britain. The story moves forward to encompass the years up to 1941, and includes the lives of a young British flier and his wife, who works in an orphanage. And more and more details emerge about Picasso, who creates his own legacy of Guernica for the Spanish pavilion of the 1937 Paris Exposition. When all these parts come together, we realize that, ultimately, this is a universal story. Through art and the historical record, Guernica is emblazoned in memory, enduring as an expression of individual and collective outrage. Frances Itani's "Remembering the Bones" has been nominated for the 2009 International IMPAC Dublin Award. Reviewed by Frances Itani, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"[A]bsorbing....[A] very good novel indeed — and a crucial reminder that genocidal folly is never as far away from us as we might wish." Kirkus Reviews
"Enhanced by Boling's knowledge of Basque culture, this is a convincing fictionalization of an infamous act of war." Booklist
"Boling breathes life into a flash point in history and creates an endearing and tragic drama that feels relevant today. Guernica is an ambitious debut by a writer whose daring imagination and seamless prose transports us to an extraordinary time and place." Jim Lynch, author of The Highest Tide
“Boling threads his way through the stories of his many characters with humor, compassion and rich details of Basque tradition…Moving.”—Washington Post Book World
In 1935, Miguel Navarro finds himself on the wrong side of the Spanish Nationalists, so he flees to Guernica, the most ancient town of the Basque region. In the midst of this idyllic, isolated bastion of democratic values, Miguel finds more than a new life—he finds a love that not even war, tragedy or death can destroy.
The bombing of Guernica was a devastating experiment in total warfare by the German Luftwaffe in the run-up to World War II . For the Basques, it was an attack on the soul of their ancient nation. History and fiction merge seamlessly in this beautiful novel about the resilience of family, love, and tradition in the face of hardship.
About the Author
A Chicago native, Dave Boling has been a journalist in the Pacific Northwest since 1980. He lives on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State.
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