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Guernica: A Novel

Dave Boling on the writing of Guernica

Fresh out of college, I met and married a lovely Basque girl whose grandparents had come from Biscaya to herd sheep in the mountains of the American West. They filled me with Basque foods, got me drunk on their wines, and tried to teach me their dances. They showed me the Basques’ characteristically fierce loyalty to their families and heritage. From them I learned of the decades-long oppression of their culture by the Franco regime. And from them I also heard of the bombing of Guernica.

As the world grew increasingly familiar with acts of terrorism against defenseless civilians, I was struck how the 1937 bombing of the historic town of Guernica had gone unrecognized as an early moment in the history of such attacks. It seemed that people in America were more aware of Picasso’s famed mural than the atrocity that spawned the painting. By fictionalizing the event, I hoped to elevate awareness of the tragedy, and also to create characters who were good and noble people coping with traumatic circumstances in inspirational ways.

As I researched the bombing, I read stories of a number of Guernica victims who appeared at hospitals with strange symptoms: Their hands were mutilated. The
injuries weren't from bombing or burning, but from their insistence on digging barehanded through jagged rubble -- until the flesh tore from their bones – in the single-minded attempt to save their loved ones.

I thought immediately that those were the kind of passionate and determined people around whom I could build a novel, especially a story whose core explores the deep feelings one has for a spouse, for families, and for his country. I hoped that their experiences could be useful to those dealing with the aftermath of such attacks to this day.