Book Review - Guernica, by Dave Boling
Guernica is the first novel by author Dave Boling and is set in the town of Guernica in the Basque region of Spain, during the Spanish Civil War.
Whilst it is fictional, the settings are historically accurate , and the author was inspired to write the book based around the painting called Guernica by the artist Pablo Picasso.
Dave Boling based his novel around real events, but his characters are fictitious. He has cleverly woven a tale around an ordinary Basque family of the time and incorporated real events and real people into his heart-wrenching story of love and struggle.
By the time the bombing of Guernica occurred, you the reader felt as if you had got to know the families involved and felt their pain much more so than if you had simply read about the bombing in a history book.
Dave Boling has successfully brought history alive, and I would recommend his book to anyone wanting to know more about Spain's bloody history in the earlier part of the 20th century.
The Bombing of Guernica
Guernica is an ancient town and cultural centre in the autonomous Basque country region of Spain. The people of the Pais Basque do not consider themselves to be Spanish, and so fought with the republican army against Franco's nationalist troops during the Spanish Civil war which started in 1936.
The nationalists had very little air-power at the time; the republicans had none. Germany was very keen to try out their new fighter planes and so persuaded Franco to allow them to bomb Guernica, supposedly to close off the bridge over the nearby Mundaca River, to stop the movements of republican troops.
The bombing of Guernica took place on the 26th April, 1937, commencing at 4.30pm which as everyone knows is when the Spanish return to their labours after their daily siesta, and mothers collect their children from school.
What in fact happened was a three and a quarter hour bombardment, on market day when more people than usual were in the centre of town. Over 100,000lbs of incendiary and high-explosive bombs were dropped and untold numbers of bullets fired from the planes at fleeing civilians.
70% of the buildings in the town were destroyed, fires burned out of control for 3 days afterwards, and 1600 people (one third of the population) were injured or killed. They were mostly women and children as the menfolk were away fighting with the republicans.
Franco later tried to deny it had even happened, blaming the townsfolk themselves of burning and bombing their own buildings.
And the bridge over the river wasn't even singed by a bomb!
Dave Boling has cleverly interweaved into his story eyewitness reports after the bombings of townsfolk with severely disfigured hands.
One of the main characters in the book scrabbled with his bare hands in the rubble to try and find his wife who he believed to be underneath, and as a result lost most of his fingers under the surgeon's knife, so severe was the damage.
This was apparently a common injury and many people ended up with severely damaged hands due to exactly the same thing - people desperately trying to find their loved ones lost under the rubble.
Just after the bombing, many surviving orphans were shipped off the safe countries, Britain being one of the takers, though no thanks to the British government of the day. Instead charities accepted the children and rehoused them or found them homes to live in.
This worked well until the second World War started in 1939 when many Basque children again found themselves living in towns and cities under enemy bombardment.
Many of the surviving local men were involved in the resistance movement, rescuing fallen pilots and slipping them out to a safe country.
In the book 'Guernica', we also have a British fighter pilot brought down and eventually rescued by the resistance through some cunning plots to outfox the Spanish Guardia and the German soldiers.
In a strange twist, it is he who is responsible for returning the child to the Basque country, but you would need to read the book to see how those events unfolded.
Guernica is a great book that really brings history alive and the author should feel proud that this, his first novel, is such a wonderful piece of writing.
In 1999, the German government formally apologised to the people of Guernica for this atrocity. The Spanish government, on the other hand, has said nothing.