by Dave Boling
On April 26th, 1937 the Nazis bombed the Basque town of Guernica on its market day. Modern scholars estimate about three hundred people were killed (the Basque government put the death toll at over 1600) and the slaughter has come to symbolize civilian suffering during war. The event inspired one of Pablo Picasso’s most famous paintings (named for the town) a copy of which hangs on a wall in the United Nations building.
Dave Boling takes a single family, the Ansoteguis, and follows their lineage through the closing years of the 19th century, the rise of Fascism in Spain, and the Spanish Civil War as their people, the Basque, are systematically repressed. Yet this is not a depressing novel. Humor and love manifest in the Ansotegui family, headed by Justo, a larger-than-life Superman known throughout the town for his great strength and tall tales. When asked to confirm that he once carried an ox on his shoulders from his family’s farm to town and then celebrated the feat by throwing the animal across the Oka River, Justo admits that it was only a small ox, his path was downhill most of the way, and the wind was with him when he threw the beast. His wife and daughter are both dancers and cheerful, spirited women. Even as war strips the Basque people of food and supplies, the people remain vibrant and united. Pablo Picasso makes several cameo appearances as he works on his Guernica painting. Truthfully, I felt his appearances were an intrusion on the story of the Ansotegui family, and wish he wasn’t included. While most of the characters are fully realized, living people, Picasso – the one “real” person in the bunch! – comes off as flat and two-dimensional. But overall it’s a beautiful story that highlights both the despair and the hope that comes in humanity’s darkest hours.
Pablo Picasso's Guernica