An extraordinary epic set in the Basque town of Guernica at the time of its destruction by the Luftwaffe on the eve of World War II.
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.
This book was full of historical information that the people of Guernica experienced during the time of the Spanish Civil War. The outcome of this war helped the Gestapo earn an advantage over the Spanish countryside, which gave the Nazi regime more power to accomplish their tasks during WWII. There were many interesting characters in this novel, including a couple names that you might remember like Picasso and the Red Baron.
The book opens in the village of Guernica, which gives you a good taste of the traditions of the Basque culture. Justo is one of the main characters in the novel and lives on a farm with his parents and younger brothers. Before too long Justo finds himself in a parental position on the farm, having to manage the farm and take care of his younger brothers. Since Justo has been working so hard on the farm since a young age, he becomes quite muscular as a young man and earns the title as the strongest man in town.
One of my favorite parts of this novel was when Justo becomes enamored with Mariangeles. You knew it just had to be love for her to still fall in love with this man, considering how he must have looked most of the time. Since Justo spent most of his time working on the farm he really didn't put much consideration into his appearance. The two eventually marry and have one daughter whom they name Miren. Since his brothers have grown up and moved on with their lives, they reside on the farm and raise their daughter together.
Miren grows into a very confident young lady and seems to me to be the light of the town. Whenever there is a party or a dance, Miren seems to be the star and everyone wants to be around her. Not only does her beauty and her air of excitement jump off the page, but also her compassion. When she was just a young girl she happened to be in the convent one day and noticed a young orphaned girl that lived there and was being raised by the nuns. At that time she took young Alaia under her wing and befriended her and their friendship grew into a sisterly love.
So much happens within this story that tells you what life was like both before and during World War II. You can feel the tension building up as you are reading, because you know the bombing of Guernica is coming. And the result of this bombing was devastating to all that were present. Boling gave me such an intense visual of what it must have been like for these people that I had tears in my eyes at one point. Getting the opportunity see a peice of the characters lives and then to experience the horror of the attack was heart-wrenching.
After the bombing of Guernica we get a glimpse of what it was like for the citizens to go on with their lives, some with and others without their loved ones. Life changes drastically as they find themselves having to ration food moreso than they already have and daily occurences with the Gestapo seem to become routine. Citizens try to hide their livestock and if they happen to butcher an animal they can only hope that the Gestapo does not learn of it or they may come and confiscate all of the meat that is so greatly needed.
This one event was the inspiration for Picasso's famous work of art titled Guernica. I think I have seen pictures of this painting but really did not look into the story or significance behind this work of art. If you haven't seen it you can view a picture of it here.
I found myself enjoying this story more than I thought I would, as I stayed up later than usual a couple of evenings just to get a little extra reading in. To help you have a better understanding of the book, Boling includes a map of the territory and also a pronunciation guide. From the pronunciation guide I found the proper way to pronounce Guernica is as follows: gare-KNEE-ka. I was pronouncing it totally wrong before I looked at this. This book was about love, traditions, war, recovery and many other things that become evident as you are reading. I loved how this story brought us into the lives of a family that found a way to reach into their inner depths to go on with their lives after encountering such a tramatic event. I have no hesitation with recommending this book. I feel that I should warn you that the bombing segment was very intense and emotional and some readers may find that part a bit too much. There is also a reading group guide included so I think book clubs would have very interesting discussions.
My Rating: 4/5
A Reader's Respite also posted a review that may be helpful to you.
Disclosure: This book was provided to me by LibraryThing in exchange for an honest review.