By Dave Boling
Picador – £12.99
A wonderful novel, Guernica effortlessly merges the history of the Spanish Civil War with the fiction of love and life and all things in-between (such as laughter and loss, pain and perplexity). More importantly, it is a book of inadvertent hope, which ensures that the reader is taken on a roller-coaster ride of ones’ own moral compass. The outcome of which, is tear-stained tenderness, amid all the colours that God – or whoever – will allow. Thus ensuring Dave Boling’s debut novel stands out from that of a number of others, written within a similar persuasion and genre.
In brief, Guernica begins in 1935 when Miguel Navarro finds himself on the wrong side of the Spanish Civil guard. Fleeing the Basque fishing village of Lekeitio, he embarks on a new life in Guernica – the epicentre of Basque culture and tradition. Within the midst of this isolated bastion of democratic values, our protagonist finds so much more than a new life.
In Miren Ansotegui, the graceful and charismatic dancer, he finds a reason and someone to live for, as both discover a love they truly believe, nothing can destroy. Nothing that is, except the inevitable; the humility of which, entices this writer into suggesting that Guernica ought to be turned into a film.
Like the excellent Shawshank Redemption – wherein hope too, is both centrifugal if not paramount – Guernica is as equally harrowing as it is telling of the human condition. For this reason alone, it would make a great film. After all, there’s nothing people like more than finding out about themselves by way of gazing into the deep, dark, truthful mirror, and then witnessing the demarcation line which separates good from evil.
In this instance, the innocence of Basque tradition and normality is ruthlessly torn apart and murdered by the German Luftwaffe – for no other reason than experimentation. Indeed, as depicted by Winston Churchill in The Gathering Storm ‘’Guernica was… an experimental horror.’’
Said horror is masterfully depicted by Boling, who reintroduces events leading up to the bombing of Guernica, by depicting a strong, proud and vibrant people; all of whom are more than willing to do whatever it takes to protect their values, their country and their loved ones. IF, given the opportunity.
As is well known, the people of Guernica were not given the opportunity to defend themselves, and this is both sensitivity and painfully documented by the author: ‘’The first deliverance of random death struck mostly women, including one refugee in a white apron with tired eyes who had tried to run away and a lovely woman standing in line, holding a stranger’s family Bible, which was incinerated in midair by the heat of the explosion.’’
Like the aforementioned film (but with a totally different subject matter) Guernica is a very powerful, provocative and necessary work. By depicting the myopic madness of Hitler’s odious, murderous regime, it simultaneously sheds much sadness and light upon the innocent victims and remnants thereof. Rather like Pablo Picasso’s stunning painting of the same name, of which the painter wrote: ‘’The painting which I am presently working on will be called Guernica. By means of it, I express my abhorrence of the race that has sunk Spain in an ocean of pain and death.’’