A Tale of One City 

Dave Boling's debut novel, Guernica, tells of life, love and war

For the first time in several years, the Washington News Tribune's 56-year-old sports writer Dave Boling will not be spending this year's "bye week" (a sports term for a period of time-off for a team) with the Seattle Seahawks. Instead, he will be busy on a book tour to promote his debut novel of historic fiction, Guernica, a story of family, war and Picasso's famous mural.

Guernica is a small town in the Spanish Basque country, a large area that spans parts of present day Spain and France. Boling's Guernica begins in the late 1800s and is the story of Justo Ansotegui, a hard-working everyman, forced to grow up quickly, when at a young age, he was bequeathed the responsibility of his two younger brothers. As an adult, Justo is equal to his peers in his desire to marry, raise a family, live well and long, and die peacefully in his home country. He is unequal to his fellow countrymen in that all agree he is the strongest man, a title he is more than happy to prove he is worthy of holding. Justo catches the eye of Mariangeles, a beautiful woman with a talent for dancing. They are soon married, followed by the birth of their only child, the lovely and loving Miren. As Miren grows, it is clear she has inherited both her mother's beauty and her agility—she can dance on the lip of a wineglass—both of which, in part, gain the attention of her husband-to-be, Miguel Navarro. They, too, are soon blessed with a beloved daughter. As the families work, live and love, they are unaware of the impending ravages of war, but sadly not immune. In the aftermath of the 1937 bombing of their village, many of the Ansoteguis' dreams are left dying among the debris. And though their lives and those of their friends and family are shattered by the tragedy, their bodies and spirits broken like the glass and rubble that litter the streets of their once bucolic village, Guernica is ultimately a story of circumstance—both bad and good—and hope.

Married into a Basque family himself, Boling said he's long been interested in Basque culture and felt there was a "lack of contemporary Basque literature out there." That coupled with his own post-9/11 awareness fostered a desire to better understand the region's war-torn past and maybe answer some questions about our own. Boling said by the way people have been responding to his book, he believes many were unaware of what really happened during the bombing. He thinks that the atrocity may very well have laid the groundwork for the raids on London, Hiroshima and other attacks on civilians throughout modern history.

"I don't think many people link the bombing of Guernica as really at the taproot of these sort of attacks on defenseless civilians," Boling said. "To me, [9/11] jumped out as the latest in a string of evolution that kind of started with Guernica. [The book] might be something that would help enlighten people to a terrible thing that I don't think Americans knew much about."

Weaving the thread of Pablo Picasso's Guernica with that of the bombing of Guernica the city would be a clear direction for an academician to take, speaking of one nearly impossible without speaking of the other. But in Boling's hands, it becomes a clever literary device that brings both history and fiction together seamlessly. Boling suspected that few readers would have a working knowledge of the 1937 bombing, but most would have a working knowledge of the painter.

In Boling's novel, Picasso played a much larger role. When Boling sat down to write the novel, he began to layer things.

He said he started intertwining the lives of men he saw as contemporaries: Justo Ansotegui, the common man; Picasso, the artist; and World War II Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, the military political man.

Boling said initially, Franco and Picasso were fully developed characters in his book, their own histories and motivations laid out on the page in the same way Boling created Justo Ansotegui.

"I was so raw at this, I didn't have a conversion rate in my head of how many words create how many pages," Boling said. He sent his manuscript off to an agent who loved the emotional weight of the story, but not its physical heft. "She said, 'Do you have any idea how many pages this is? 682!' I had no idea." The agent told Boling he had to cut it and suggested he start with Franco and cut back on Picasso. It wasn't an easy task, but one Boling took to heart. Over the course of a weekend, he cut 150 pages in order to have the book ready to take to a book fair in Frankfurt, Germany. The novel will have worldwide distribution and Boling may have to take his own "bye week"—or month—since his book tour includes stops in Spain and a reading on Boise's Basque block, sponsored by Rediscovered Bookshop. The reading—which rumor has it Boling will do from atop a sheep cart—will include a book signing, tapas and wine.

Guernica is Boling's first shot out of the gate at fiction. At age 53, he began work on what so many journalists tinker with for years at night, on weekends and between deadlines: a novel. He finished in roughly three years and, as if that weren't enough to have other daily writers turning green with envy, the book was picked up by Bloomsbury, the publishing house responsible for the Harry Potter series. And to top it all off, it's well-executed, informative and a terrific read.

After nearly 30 years as a sportswriter, Boling said it's interesting to take off his sportswriting hat and put on a novel one. And he likes the way the new hat fits.

Friday, Sept. 19, 6 p.m.-9 p.m. Tickets are $9 in advance, $10 on site. Basque Block, Grove St. between Capitol Boulevard and Sixth Street. For more information or advance tickets, call or visit Rediscovered Bookshop, 7079 Overland Rd., 208-376-4229, rediscoveredbookshop.com.

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