Tag Archives: Dave Boling

What I Thought Of……….Guernica by Dave Boling

……….Guernica had been on my “Waiting In The Wings” shelf for quite a few months before I picked it up and started it last week. Other books came in after it and yet were promoted to my hands before I read it, so it was a bit overlooked I guess. I think I overlooked it because I was worried it would be overly “clever” – and I made that irrational conclusion from doing the following very simple maths equation

Dave Boling is Washington journalist (and so very clever) + Picasso was a bit of a genius (and so very clever) = Guernica (book that might be a bit hard for me!)

I couldn’t have been more wrong and so from now on I’ll restrict my maths equation work to helping my daughter with her Maths homework on a Thursday night (or as it frequently is for us ‘In the car on the way to school on a Friday morning’ Maths homework!).

Guernica is a wonderful book. It’s set around the events leading to, during, and then in the aftermath of, the horrific annihilation of the Basque town of Guernica by the Germans in 1937 on behalf of Franco’s Fascists. The events are of course all too real, for this was essentially almost a practice run for the blitzkrieg that the Nazi’s subsequently unleashed across Europe from 1939. The story includes a number of real life characters like Picasso, Von Richthofen, and Aguirre who was the Basque leader at that time within the narrative, but the politics of the Spanish Civil War and abhorrent ideologies of the Fascists at that time are kept to a minimum and instead what Dave Boling tells is a story of ordinary people, their lives on the lead in to the horror that was to befall them. The story is told in the most beautiful, understated and yet incredibly moving prose.

It follows the lives of two groups of families, the Navarro’s and the Ansotegui’s. In particular the story is woven around Justo Ansotegui, his wife Mariangeles, their daughter Miren and Miguel Navarro, who is destined to become integral to all of their lives. The book patiently and gently builds up a picture of these and the other main characters in the novel so that you’re really drawn into the heart of their lives, their relationships and the place in time that Guernica was in the early to mid-1930’s. The pace of the book at this stage is almost leisurely but it fits so well as you get a sense of the leisurely, subtly paced, if hard lives, of the Anotegui’s and the Navarro’s as they make a living from the land, the sea and their wits.

The characters are brilliantly drawn and I found myself warming to every one of them. You can’t help but smile at Justo’s lurid tall stories and his physical demonstrations of his strength while at the same time knowing that it is a strength which will see him powerless when the horror of the Nazi assault begins. Yet still you want to laugh with him, marvel in his feats of physical prowess and yet put a protective arm around his shoulders, because of course as the reader you are privy to the future and you know that a force beyond anything Justo could possibly imagine is lying in wait for him on the horizon of fate.

Alongside Justo is the determination and solidity of Miguel, a wonderful combination of strength and sensitivity, physical brawn and deft craftsmanship, who put me in mind of the wonderful Gabriel Oak in Far From The Madding Crowd. The masculinity and almost alpha-male machismo of Miguel and Justo is beautifully balanced with the grace, poise and smartness of Mariangeles and Miren. While on the surface within the characters the power sits in the physical strength of Miguel and Justo, there’s no doubt that among them, the real power over their lives is the gentle hands of the women. It’s a book with thast kind of feel where the male characters have the ability to move the mountains but they need the female characters to tell them when to start moving it and where they ought to put it! (Isn’t it ever thus perhaps?!)

But of course, hovering over all of them is the power of the evil about to be unleashed by the Nazi war machine on Guernica. It’s cold and callous face is represented by the functional approach of Von Richthofen. It is this overwhelming mix of evil and immorality which gives the Nazi support for Franco its real menace. I found myself caring so much about these characters I almost wanted to scream a warning through the pages, for you care about them partly because of who they are but you care about them partly because you know and understand the enormity of the devastation about to be unleashed upon them and it’s of course on a scale that they couldn’t ever begin to imagine or comprehend. Guernica is in essence the first time history witnesses that kind of total destruction warfare with which it was too become all too familiar in the rest of the 20th century and which it seems to me we still witness without ever really learning the lessons today.

The description of the destruction of Guernica is horrific and gripping and moving and awful and magnificent all at the same time. I won’t detail here the fate of any of the characters or their futures in the aftermath of Guernica, in case you want to read it for yourself as I would thoroughly recommend you to. But I don’t think I’d give too much away in saying that the story projects some hope in the midst of the carnage and loss and that hope lies in the way ordinary people live and love. And so it should be, for at its heart this is a story about people first and events second and even though those events radically change their lives, it is still the story of everyday people that matters most.

Interspersed all the way through the book are snippets from the life of Picasso, which lead to the background to the commissioning of the mural which was in turn to become his magnificent masterpiece “Guernica” about the fate which befell the Basque town. I loved the descriptions of Picasso at work and at love and life. They are short and simple, giving them the same feel as the everyday descriptions of the lives of the characters in Guernica itself.

When the canvas arrived and stretched onto its frame an odd happenstance surprised Picasso. The expansive studio had no problem accommodating the twenty-five foot breadth of canvas, but at nearly twelve feet high it didn’t fit vertically against a wall. Instead, Picasso had to wedge the frame against the rafters at a slight angle and keep it in position with a series of shims he whittled. He worried: would the angle alter the perspective?…..

….With a thin brush and black ink, Picasso outlined the images on the canvas. He used a ladder or a long stick to hold his brushes for the upper reaches. With the sleeves of his white shirt rolled up to the elbows, cigarette in his left hand, Picasso crouched deeply to work on the lower reaches. His hair, combed low on the right side to cover his balding crown, kept slipping out of place and falling across his forehead.

It is descriptions like this, reflecting the simplest of physical gestures against the backdrop of the painting and all it represented that gave the writing a real depth and warmth for me.

It also leads to one of the best and most memorable endings (or as it’s on the second last page, perhaps it’s the ‘almost-ending’) to a book I’ve ever read. In a Parisian cafe during the Nazi occupation of Paris, Picasso is approached by a German officer.

‘One officer who considered himself culturally advanced approached the artist as he sipped coffee at a table beneath the green pavement awning. The officer held a reproduction of the mural Guernica, barely larger than postcard size.

“Pardon me” he said, holding the card out. “You did this, didn’t you?”

Picasso put his cup delicately onto its saucer, turned to the picture and then to the officer, and responded, “No. You did.”

Guernica is great. It brings to life a dark, tragic, event and takes you back in time not to the event itself, but to the people of Guernica and to their story. And it’s the story that makes it great. It’s funny, moving, quirky in places, quiet and then loud and above all it’s a love story and a bloody good one!

It allows me to revise my maths equation to

Dave Boling is still a Washington journalist (and great writer)+ Picasso was still a bit of a genius (and had great line in Nazi put-downs ) = Guernica (a great book you should definitely read!)

If you’re interested, there’s a good review of Guernica on LindyLouMac’s Book Reviews blog, which includes a link to an interview with Dave Boling.

Or if you like your reviews done visually by bona-fide genius actors, then the wonderful Benedict Cumberbatch (can’t wait for next series of Sherlock!) reviews it below (in the beautiful Mykonos of all places!) – And if I’m honest I’m including this partly to try and entice my partner to read my blog as she thinks Mr Cumberbatch is a bit special!

17 Days Of My Life Wasted Listening To Bohemian Rhapsody………….

……….This is apparently the amount of one’s lifetime that the average person will spend listing to, and for me, singing along falsetto to, “I see a little silhouetto of a man! Scaramouche! Scaramouche! Will you do the fandango!”  – or at least that’s how long I’ll spend on Bohemian Rhapsody singalongs according to Stuart Maconie on BBC Radio 6 (and if it’s reported by the BBC then it must be true!).

I mention it because I’m conscious of the fact that I don’t seem to have time to read at the same speed as everybody else. Last night I listened to “The Readers” podcast which included, between the giggling, the dates for their Summer Book Club, which I posted about previously. Now ordinarly 8 books in 8 weeks (the dates are on their website!) wouldn’t have phased me one bit – in fact until recently I’d have laughed scornfully in the face of such a mealy-mouthed reading challenge – a book a week now though terrifies me!

My anxiety about my reading speed is heightened by the fact that every bloody reading blog I suscribe to seems to indicate that everybody else is reading one book a day – at least! I love reading the different blogs I subscribe to, but the speed at which say the bloggers at Book Snob or Random Jottings go through books makes me feel I should have stuck to Janet and John!!!!

(and as an aside if you remember the travails and misery of being taught to read through Janet and John, you might like this take on it – Wendy Cope’s poem Reading Scheme!)

At the moment I’m reading Guernica by Dave Boling. The book is good, I’m enjoying it and everything is as it should be – except for the fact that I started it on Monday night and I’ve only reached page 124! If I’m to enjoy blogging about books, but find the time to have any books read to actually blog about I need to save time! So for a start I’m ditching Bohemian Rhapsody!

However a quick trawl of the Internet showed me that in addition to frittering away my life screeching about a bloke who’s telling his mother he’s just killed someone and that they are coming to get him (a plot straight out of Midsomer Murders I think!) I found out that I am:-

1. Wasting 46 days of my life just getting ready! (Mind you could be worse – if I was a woman apparently my time wastage on getting dressed would go up to 136days!)

2. Wasting 13 weeks of my life lying on a beach trying to get a tan (and I’m a Glaswegian for god’s sake! We only do two colours – milk bottle white or pillar box red!)

3. Wasting 4 years (yes 4 bloody years!!!!!) on the phone at work – no wonder so little gets done each week!

4. Wasting 138 weeks of my life washing clothes (and it is a waste – all that time and I still always manage to look like I’ve slept in them!)

5. Wasting 125 days of my life having a shave ( Ryan Giggs doesn’t bother with this and having perma-stubble hasn’t held Ryan back!!)

6. Wasting 27 days of my life getting romantic (who’d have thought buying petrol station flowers every year on Feb 14th would take so long…………..!) and then wasting a further 2 weeks kissing!

When I think about all that time wasted, it’s no wonder I don’t have enough time to read! So from here on, to get back that time, I’m ditching washing and getting dressed, I’m abandoning shaving, and if I’m not getting dressed then I need waste no more time washing clothes, and I’m giving up work and I’m accepting finally that my skin will NEVER go brown! Then I’m going to take most of the time I’ve saved and devote it to reading so I should start to get through Guernica and other books much quicker. But I won’t put all that time into reading – I’ll save a bit of it for the romantic stuff because I don’t know about you, but that didn’t seem enough to me!!!!