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Guernica: A Novel Hardcover – September 2, 2008

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; 1 edition (September 2, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596915633
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596915633
  • Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 6.4 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (175 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,484,975 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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 José 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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

A family saga set against the destruction of the Basque town of Guernica in 1937, Boling’s debut follows the Ansotegui clan: eldest son Justo works a farm; middle son Josepe fishes; and youngest son Father Xabier tends to parishioners in nearby Bilbao. Vignettes of their youths glimpse their settling into their vocations, while scenes of Justo’s marriage to Mariangeles give way to the story of their dance-loving daughter, Miren. Her warmth and twirling skirt snare the marital attention of Miguel Navarro, and they, their own daughter, Catalina, and other Ansoteguis find themselves subjected to the maelstrom depicted in Pablo Picasso’s frantic artistic indictment of Guernica. (Boling grants cameo scenes to Picasso and the German air commander.) Mutually devastated by the apparent deaths of their wives and daughters, Justo and son-in-law Miguel improve their previously tense relationship, while author Boling cultivates a subplot with a somewhat melodramatic but definitely Lazarus-like conclusion that restores some happiness to the family. Enhanced by Boling’s knowledge of Basque culture, this is a convincing fictionalization of an infamous act of war. --Gilbert Taylor

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Customer Reviews

Vivid descriptions and characterization make the story come alive.
I found all of the characters well drawn and interesting and the plot moved along very quickly and I found it hard to put this book down.
DJ 815
Wonderfully written, I recommend this to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

63 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Laura R on October 8, 2009
Format: Paperback
Guernica is a riveting story that details the lives of the Ansotegui and Navarro families before, during, and after the bombing by the German Luftwaffe. After the death of his mother, Justo Ansotegui's father recedes with grief and eventually disappears leaving his eldest son in charge. He takes on the responsibility of care for his two younger brothers along with the family property Erottabari with no one to guide him. The brothers are creative in their management of the farm using games and pranks to make the most mundane chores fun. This is the setting in which the story begins, in the heart of the Pays Basque region of Spain.
I really loved following Justo's story and found myself in tears a couple of times. I knew next to nothing of the Basque people and their traditions prior to reading this, let alone the climate of the country surrounding the bombing. I found myself looking online for more details about events and will probably look for more books in the future about the Basque people. I received this book through the LTER program and loved every bit of it.
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48 of 51 people found the following review helpful By HardyBoy64 VINE VOICE on September 12, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I have read a lot of Spanish Civil War literature because I have a Ph.D in contemporary Spanish literature. (20th century). From Ramón Sender, to Hemingway, I have studied how this event has been portrayed in literature through the perception of many different authors. I say this not to boast, but to hopefully add a bit of weight to my opinion about this novel.

Dave Boling has written a nearly-perfect book with so many positives that I would recommend it to anyone interested in reading it. What he does so well is characterization. These Basque people come to life and from the pages of this book, the reader can see, smell and practically taste their culture and how it completely defines them. The dialogue between them is playful when it needs to be, poignant when it needs to be and yet seems so natural, as if you, the reader, were eavesdropping on actual conversations. I personally enjoyed the variety of characters (both historical and fictional) and how eventually people from all different nations came together to fight against evil. Reviewers have complained that Picasso wasn't "real" enough and that his character was flat. I wouldn't expect otherwise. Boling uses Picasso as a reference to his painting, and like his masterpiece "Guernica", he is an abstract observer of the fully-developed Basque characters, who are the true center of this novel.

Some have called the novel's conclusion "contrived". Perhaps, but I cared so much about the characters by that point, that I felt the emotional impact of that conclusion. Great books make us feel and think, and this book made me do both.
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Bob Glaza on November 19, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Warning: I loved this book

It might have been clever or catchy to sub title the novel Guernica: A Love Story but that's what it is to me. While familiar with Picasso's painting (which I was blessed to see a number of years ago), I knew very little of Basque history. Boling takes a family of brothers and follows it through the devastation of war. The book will make you feel happy and sad. It draws out laughter as well as tears. A great holiday gift that is unique enough to inform even the most discerning reader.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Blue in Washington TOP 1000 REVIEWER on November 2, 2011
Format: Paperback
"Guernica" is the well-written saga of two families living in the Basque Region of northern Spain in the first part of the 20th Century. The town of Guernica was made internationally famous on April 24, 1937 when the German Condor Legion, fighting for the Nationalist forces of Franco in the Spanish Civil War, bombed and strafed the town continuously for several hours to both intimidate the Basque people, who supported the Republican side in the conflict, and to test the Germans' tactic of terror bombing that would be heavily used in WWII.

The bombing of the town is a central part of this book, but the novel is much more about the lives and culture of the Basque people before and after the event. It is rich in characters, enjoying relatively simple lives, who become the civilian victims and bystanders of first a civil war and eventually the wider European conflict. Ironically, the latter war saw Spain become a kind of haven for victims from other countries right on the heels of the Basques' (and Spaniards') own internal tragedy.

"Guernica" provides a real insight into the world view of the Basques and explains why they are not completely comfortable with their position as citizens of Spain to this day. The descriptions of the geography and culture of the place will encourage the reader to visit the Basque Country and soak up the atmosphere of a very ancient and independent civilization.

This is a fine book, written by someone who knows how to present narrative and dialogue in an entertaining flow. Recommended.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By D Miller on October 5, 2009
Format: Hardcover
A few years ago I visited Spain for the second time and was finally able to see Guernica, Picasso's masterpiece depicting the horrors of the Spanish civil war. What struck me almost as much as the painting itself was the fact that it was guarded and under bulletproof glass. That led me on a quest to read more about the painting and its genesis. Until I read Boling's Guernica, most of my reading was about the painting and not about the event itself.

I nearly gave up on this book. The first few chapters just seemed so slow. Interspersed among the passages about the main characters are short paragraphs that seem out of place about Picasso living in Paris. They seem too forced (I hate historical fiction when the author seems to be trying to show all that s/he has researched.) Eventually, though, the story becomes more engaging as the relationship between Miren and Miguel develops, and I surrendered myself to the book.

The descriptions of the attack on Guernica are horrifying, and the most compelling character in that portion of the book is Justo's brother, the priest. I wish, in fact, that he had more of a role in the book. The female characters were a bit flat at the beginning, but they did get better.

Overall, I can say that I enjoyed the book, and I'm glad I stuck with it. However, I never got over feeling that the insertion of Picasso into the book was irrelevant and forced, especially since Boling's development of his own characters definitely got better. His confidence as a novelist seemed to grow as the story progressed, and as a reader I felt satisfied enough with the book that I would be willing to read future books by Boling.
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