Author tells tale of love and war in Basque Country

Wed Mar 25, 2009 9:11am EDT
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By Angus MacSwan

LONDON (Reuters) - Set in the Basque country of northeastern Spain in the 1930s, U.S. writer Dave Boling's debut novel is a family saga with the horrific German bombing of the small town of Guernica in the Spanish Civil War at its core.

It follows the lives and loves of two Basque families, the Ansoteguis and the Navarros, and takes in a cast of characters including the artist Picasso, smugglers and fishermen, child refugees and a downed RAF pilot.

It also paints a portrait of the Basque culture, which was repressed under the rule of Spanish dictator General Francisco Franco after the civil war.

Boling is a sportswriter who turned to novel writing in his 50s. "Guernica" won the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association fiction award and was picked by British bookseller Waterstone's as one of its 12 "New Voice" novels for 2009.

Q - The Basque country is an obscure part of the world in which to set a novel. What sparked your interest there?

A - It starts with a love story. When I was in college at the University of Idaho a beautiful young girl walked past me one day and I just had to stop her and say hello. It turned out she was Basque American, her parents had come to Idaho to herd sheep in the early 20th century. We ended up getting married and over the course of 25 years I got a rather full immersion into the Basque culture and history, and great affection for her family as people of very high character, strong morals, very family orientated, hard workers. They are very proud of their traditions.

Q - The horrors of the Spanish Civil War are very vivid in the novel. What was your intention there?

A - When I was starting there was another war getting going and I wasn't very happy about that, and so I thought was there something that might have an antiwar subtext. After the attacks in 2001 in America, I had been really surprised that nobody in the mainstream American media traced the history of this sort of attack back to the bombing of Guernica. The epigraph quote from Churchill that Guernica was an 'experimental horror' -- that I thought really showed that this was the beginning of this sort of thing. Because of my connections to the Basques, I'd heard about the bombing of Guernica. If Americans had heard about it, it was mostly the Picasso painting, not the actual event that triggered it. I thought that is an event that was one of the great tragedies of the 20th Century and it's been slipping away from consciousness and there's a real contemporary relevance.   Continued...