Everyone has heard of Guernica, the Basque town that was savagely bombed by the Luftwaffe on 26 April 1937, and most are aware of the famous painting by Picasso which, since the fall of fascism, has been on display in Madrid. Conveying the horror of that incident is not easy and this novel does it through the lives of two families related by marriage: the Ansotegui family - headed by the hard-working farmer Justo, married to Mariangeles, and father to the dancer Miren - and the Navarro family - centred on brothers Dodo, a fisherman, and Miguel, a carpenter. Miren and Miguel marry and have a beautiful daughter Catalina and befriend a blind soapmaker Alaia. In this story, some will live, some will die and some will be maimed both physically and psychologically. There are 'guest' appearances by some actual historic personages.
In many respects, this is an impressive work. For American journalist Dave Bowling, this is a formidable first novel - wonderfully researched, carefully structured, and immensely readable. His narrative of 370 pages starts in 1893 and ends in 1940 with the actual bombing - a very moving account - occuring almost exactly half way through. However, the publishers promote the novel as comparable to "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" and, while both deal with love and war, "Guernica" is simply not in the same class as Louis de Bernières' work. Here all the leading characters are one-dimensional (noble and/or heroic), the dialogue is stilted and undifferentiated between the characters, and the portrayal of the Basque cause is overly simplistic (in a Author's Note at the end, Boling states: "I tried not to tax the reader with elaborations on the complex and volatile politics at work at the time" - something that Bernières was willing to do).