Guernica is set around the bombing of a small Basque town in 1937.. a bombing that was described by Winston Churchill as an “experimental horror”. It incensed the painter Picasso so much that it became the subject of his mural, displayed that year at the Paris International Exposition.
To gain a sense of the extent of the bombing, there is well written article here, which appeared in The Times.
However, the book is about far much more than that, and in fact, half of the story takes place prior to the bombing. It tells the story of two families, their marriages, friendships and love, as they live through the approach of war. This half of the book did seem a little slow, but it’s certainly worth it, as I found myself pulled further and further into their lives. By the time the planes approached, these people had become real to me, making the needless destruction that followed even more heart breaking.
In addition, the story does not end with the destruction, but continues on, as the war takes hold. It shows how lives changed, and also introduces some extra characters in England, offering yet another angle on the story.
Despite the subject matter, this is a book full of hope and love – it lays before you the horror of the bombing, but the focus is on the people.
I have read some negative reviews of this book, which mainly seem to be from people used to the subject matter. For me, it introduced me to a whole new area.. I had to go and read more about the Basque people, the bombing, and Picasso’s mural, and it has opened my eyes to yet another horror of war. For anyone with limited knowledge of this area, like myself, I would recommend some reading before starting the book, as it will probably help put everything into perspective.
Guernica will be published by Picador 06/02/09