Review: Guernica

Guernica, by Dave Boling

The Down and Dirty

On April 26, 1937, the German Condor Legion bombed the bejeesus out of a small Basque town in Spain called Guernica.
Hitler had "loaned" his deadly Luftwaffe to the soon-to-be facist dictator Franco who was battling for control during the devastating Spanish Civil War. No one knows for certain how many civilians died that day. Guernica had no air defenses and it was market day in the center of town. What is known is that the majority of the town was completely destroyed and a new age of attacking civilian targets was ushered in.

Dave Boling's debut novel Guernica is an intensely personal examination of the destruction of a town. Rather than take on the entire political spectrum that led to the bombing of Guernica, Boling examines the lives of two families who are Guernica. Like families the world over, they live, they love, and in this case, they suffer losses unimaginable in the Western world today.

Picasso's great mural: Guernica

The Lit Crit

This is a character driven novel and Boling fills the novel with complex, rich characters, making the reader a part of the community. You feel as if you have known these characters all of your life...their joys are your joys, their pain is your pain.

You should be aware that the passage relating the actual bombing is, perhaps, one of the most intense scenes on paper. Be prepared for tears, anger and excruiciating anguish. The jarring transition from character-centric to stark destruction masterfully mirrors the transformation of Guernica from a sleepy, peaceful town to a raging inferno.

Don't look for a happy ending here. Thankfully, however, neither does Boling offer up a gratuitous sob-fest. He sees it through to the end and you can expect a healthy dose of realism. Anything less would have cheapened the novel.

Our Recommendation

Highly, highly recommended. This novel is one that will stay on your permanent shelves (right next to a box of Kleenex) to be read and re-read. There is a good reason this book won the 2009 Pacific Northwest Book Award for Fiction.

If you would like to learn more about the broader political situation of the Spanish Civil War and Spain's role during World War II, pair this novel with C.J. Sansom's novel, Winter in Madrid (review here). Both novels would make the perfect gift for your favorite history buff.

The Metro recently interviewed the author -- one of the best interviews I've ever read and worth checking out.

Title: Guernica
Author: Dave Boling
ISBN-13: 978-1596915633
384 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury, USA
Date: September 2, 2008

Some More Reviews in Blogland:

A Lovely Shore Breeze
Presenting Lenore
Fresh Ink Books
BCF Book Reviews
The Optimistic Bookfool
She Is Too Fond of Books
Redlady's Reading Room
Raging Bibliomania
Muse Books Reviews
Devourer of Books
Hobo's Books
Virtual Wordsmith


  1. Ooooh another good book to add to my list of books to read. This seems right up my alley as well as I like to experience historical events from personal perspectives. Great review.

  2. Wow!
    What a terrific review. You have made me want to run out and get this book immediately. Really, I am intrigued. Adding Guernica to my Wishlist.

  3. These book recommendations are really something... Usually I'm doubtful and have no interest in the mentioned books. The last two have really and sincerely sounded interesting. It could be the history buff in me nudging me along, but either way... Two new books to add to my lists.

  4. What on earth are y'all doing up this late? Good grief, go to bed!

    I've been on a streak of really, really good books lately. It can't last, I know. Just when I get used to such high-quality writing, someone will throw a clinker at me. Never fails.

    I'm a history fanatic and am very, very picky about historical fiction. I think that's because I cut my teeth on Sharon Kay Penman and she's just the epitome of the genre in my opinion. But these last two books were so well written.

    It was just happenstance that I read them so close to each other....I think it enhanced both of the novels. I really do think they should be sold as a set!

  5. This was easily one of my top ten reads from last year - amazing that it was his first novel.

  6. This is definitely going on The List - it will work towards my WWII reading challenge. You've gotten your dose of Spain here lately! I don't really need happy often they are contrived and predictable. I will cross my fingers for your roll of good books to continue!

  7. You review is great, as always. This one has been in my TBR pile for a while. Looks like I need to make time to read it.

  8. Great review. As difficult as it is to read about some subjects, if we don't stay informed and don't remember the horrors, then we won't know enough to help stop them from occurring again.

  9. This one is on my shelf to read later this year. I'm glad to hear you liked it so much.

  10. Okay I know that's not funny but I had to laugh at the term "bombed the bejeesus". Great review~

  11. You probably already know that I completely agree with you, since you included a link to my review, but I want to reiterate that I completely agree with you. This was a fantastic book and, really, how many people write historical fiction about the Basque people during the Spanish Civil War? Not many, my friend. It was really interesting to be able to learn about something very new to me in such an emotionally engaging way.

  12. I've been wanting to read this for ages, mostly because he's a Local Author (and I believe in supporting Local Authors!) but also because it's been getting some enormously positive reviews, including your own. I'm buried in Eastern European novels right now but must bump this to the top of the list for March. Thanks for the great review.

    Has anyone ever read any of Sharan Newman's Catherine Denevue novels? She writes novels based in 12th (13th?) century England and they're fantastic historical fiction - she has a way of weaving the history into the story so well you hardly even realize it's there, while the plot still carries the story. Michelle mentioned Sharon Kay Penman, which made me think of Sharan Newman.

  13. Great review Michelle. I've had this one on my wishlist for a while. I should just splurge and pick it up.

  14. I would totally agree that those of you that have not read this one should run out and get a copy ASAP. You will not be sorry.

    I remember when I got this one and realized it was set during the Spanish Civil War..I was not thrilled. I confess that I am not a huge fan of the historical novel. Until I started reading it...

    Definitely a keeper!
    Hey, it made Michele, with her self professed cold black heart reach for the tissues!

  15. This sounds like a book I would have never ever thought twice about looking at but you've made me reconsider. Ever since I've been "book blogging," I've been exposed to so many different types of books and I love it. Thanks!

    And The Memorist arrived today! Looks great! But you could have sent it via Media Mail! I feel bad!

  16. I wanted to let you know my package arrived're the best! I would have e-mailed you, but we had a power outage and it blew out my computer. I'm using my son's laptop, and it has none of my stuff on it! I'm going to have another meldown....

  17. Carrie - it was fabulous and unexpected, wasn't it?

    Marg - with your background in HF, I'm relatively certain you'd love this one.

    Sandy - the streak is gonna end at some point, I figure I'd better just brace myself for it, LOL.

    Kathy - it sat in my TBR pile for 3months. It was one of those things where I knew I'd love it so I kept putting off reading it so I'd have a book to look forward to.

    Beth - I think that's why I'm drawn to historical fiction so much.

    Alyce - it won't disappoint!

    Ladytink - the phrase comes from my mother, LOL.

    Jen - I think that's a large part of why I loved it. If I see another Boleyn novel, I'll need the throw-up bowl.

    Kate - Dave is local for me, too, and I just love reading local authors. Have you read Erica Bauermeister's School of Essential Ingredients yet? She's a UW professor!

    Dar - I believe it's just about to be released in softcover!

    Caite - the tissues may have been due to a bad cold (just kidding). The bombing scene was soooo intense!

    Jenners - that's the best part about reading book blogs...I've been exposed to more new genres this way and I'm so grateful to all of you who bring them to my attention! And don't feel that way about the shipping - it was my pleasure and the Reincarnationist should be arriving tomorrow since I sent them at the same time...damned post service.

    Sandy - glad it got there! Darn those would be much easier if they were solar powered! Hope it's an easy fix (tho it doesn't sound that way...argh!!!!).

  18. This one is in my TBR pile too, I have read nothing but great reviews so I guess I should bump it up to the top.

    I agree with Kate, the Sharan Newman series is really good, I think I have read all but the lastest one.


  19. Kate and Carey - I haven't read her yet....looks like I've been missing out, eh? Added her to my list!

  20. I agree w/ what you said about the bombing scene. Painful but very well written. I really loved the characters in this book and the ending brought me to tears.

    Fantastic review Michele, and thanks for the link.


  21. I loved this one, too! Just loaned it to a friend of mine and can't wait to hear what she thinks of it. She's reading it right after finishing the entire Twilight series, which I find really amusing.

  22. Your review did it for me, definitely putting this one on my TBR list...thanks

  23. Sorry I'm so late in getting this posted to the challenge blog. I've FINALLY posted it here.

    Diary of an Eccentric

  24. Great review thanks-I few years ago I read George Orwell's "Homage to Catalonia"-his account of his experiences during the Spanish Cival War-it should be read by any one interested in the period-I will add this book to by wish list-


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