The bombing of Guernica is rightly recognised as one of the most shocking and inhumane raids in modern warfare. The German Luftwaffe dropped bombs on a defenceless civilian population, allegedly for experimental purposes. As many facts and figures as history books can tell us, as many horrors as they describe, we read with a slightly detached view. By introducing individual characters, people who have a back story and a future and a family and a personality can we understand how it would feel to be part of such devastation.
To this end, Boling introduces us to brothers, Justo, Josepe and Xabier. We follow their family history from childhood through to old age. Justo Courts a local beauty and has a daughter Miren who falls in love with Miguel, who has been smuggled into Guernica by Josepe after a fight with the Guardia. These are all likeable characters, as are the other townfolk we meet along the way, which only adds to the sense of foreboding throughout. (Come on, you didn’t really think a book about Guernica was going to end happily did you?!)
For some people this may be a cynical attempt to use real tragedy to pull at the heartstrings, but I found it genuinely moving. Boling has humanised the suffering and created an engaging and romantic story along the way. There are many books out there with similar themes, some boring, some beautiful, but this is not one to be missed.
“Reporters wanted to define the event with numbers. But Father Xabier was unable to.
“When you see burned children, laying in the street, charred…melted, you don’t count them,” Xabier said. “When you see a group of boys fused into a blackened mass, you don’t take an inventory. How many died? How many? Death was infinite.”
If you like the epic tale of one family’s history you might like One Hundred Years Of Solitude
If you like the descriptions of war you might like Birdsong
If you like romance in wartime you might like A Town Like Alice