June 2011 – ‘Guernica’

Guernica, by Dave BolingAfter his mother dies in childbirth, and his father swiftly follows with a mortally broken heart, Justo Ansotegui is left with the enormity of looking after his two younger brothers and running the farm in the Basque community of Guernica.

We see Justo transformed from manual labourer into the village strong man, who manages to woo a local beauty, with whom he has a daughter, Miren.  Years later, the story turns to Justo’s daughter Miren and her love for Miguel.

What we like about this book is the history of the Basque people. Speaking Basque had, by the mid-1930s, had become illegal and as fascism increases in Spain and Franco begins his assault on the Republicans, Boling depicts a defiant and proud community.

The mood of the book swiftly moves from romance to the horrors of the Luftwaffe as at Franco’s invitation the town is cruelly bombed. The scenes of crushed mothers and babies in arms is truly horrifying.

Tell us what you think…

This is Boling’s first book. How do you think it fares as a first book?

What did you think of the depictions of peasant life?

Some say the characters are flat and predictable – do you agree?

How did the book make you feel about events in Spain that led to the tragic bombing of the town and treatment of the Basques?

  1. Hi to all of you who love nothing more than a great read!! Although I am more used to hosting book clubs in the library, I am always open to trying something different. I am very much looking forward to your posts on this month’s book, Guernica.
    I have nearly finished reading it and have enjoyed it immensely. Historical novels have always been a favourite genre of mine as fictional characters help put historical facts into context., especially if the author has been skillful enough to ensure the reader can empathise with the characters.
    I feel that Dave Boling has achieved this as I have been emotionally caught up in the drama as tragic events gradually unfold.
    Please let me know how you feel the characters are portrayed and how it affects your perception of the civil war.

  2. Hi, I saw your group reading “Guernica.” I hope you enjoy it. Readers have been very gracious, which is so gratifying for a first-time novelist!

    If anybody has any specific questions, I’ll be happy to address them if I can. I’ll check back in when I can.

    Happy reading!

    Dave Boling

    • Thanks so much for your comments. I have a question from a member of our Willesden Book Circle. She thoroughly enjoyed reading the book but wanted to know a little bit more about the Basque people before the 1930’s and the bombings. We were both impressed with your amazing talent for drawing the reader in and weaving in diffeent elements so seamlessly. For example, the part played by Britain in supporting the Basque people as seen through the experiences of Annie and Charley.

  3. Hi, Lorna,

    The Basques were always fiercely independent, particularly because their “nation” was in place long before the nations of Spain and France were established. Because they believed that “every man is king of his own land” the feudal system never took hold there. They were proud of having one of the first true republican governments in which representatives of each region met under the Tree of Guernica to establish laws that were some of the earliest to recognize women’s rights, civil liberties, etc. It is for many of these reasons that the fascists were particularly eager to eradicate them.

    All the “different elements” you referenced were based on historical accounts … the Basque orphans being taken to England, the downed RAF fliers being smuggled through the Pyrenees by Basques, etc. Scenes with Von Richthofen, Picasso, Franco, etc., were based on historical accounts, with a degree of license taken when I tried to get inside their minds to portray motives, but that, too, was based on research of biographical accounts.

    My first manuscript included much more on Franco and Picasso, getting deeper into their characters, who were contemporaries of the fictional Justo. I saw the three — the dictator, the artist and the common man — on something of a collision course with all their lives dramatically altered by the bombing of Guernica. But the manuscript was too long and it was suggested that Franco be mostly left as an off-scene menace, and Picasso a slender thread to supply cultural context.

    Hope this helps. Very much appreciate your interest.


    Dave Boling

  4. I loved reading this book and felt disappointed to finish it. I totally disagree that the characters lack depth; I thought that they were really well crafted, totally believable and made the book come alive. I enjoyed the range of characters and found the blind soapmaker Alaia and Father Xabier very intriguing. I loved the romance of this story but also loved the historical depictions that were so accurate.
    It was a real eye opener for me as to the scale human suffering and strength of the Basques. I really urge everyone to read this book to find out more about the Basque culture and history and also for a really good page turner. I read this book on holiday and almost missed out on the sight seeing, because I barely looked up.
    It does remind me of Captain Corelli’s mandolin and I wonder if the author has been approached to make the book into a film or drama?

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