Category Archives: Books

Basque Book Roundup

There has been a lot of news about Basque books…

51ERBzMF2ULIt’s Hammer Time! (am I dating myself?)

Begoña Echeverria’s book, The Hammer of Witches, was just chosen as Editor’s Choice for the month of May by the Historical Novel Society! If you haven’t heard about the novel, I mentioned it here. The story of a young girl in the grips of the witch hunts in a 1610 Basque town, The Hammer of Witches is “a gripping page-turner of horrific historical events” and is the first book [the editor] “ever read that made me feel what it must have been like to be a victim of unfounded suspicion, forced to rely on personal faith, or recant all one holds true.” High praise indeed! Zorionak Begoña!

TOBM_1024x1024Revisiting the transformation of Bilbao

Joseba Zulaika, once the head of the Center for Basque Studies at UNR, has just released his most recent book, That Old Bilbao Moon, which is more about the Basque generation of the 60s and how the Guggenheim Museum has come to symbolize, in some sense, not only a rebirth of the city of Bilbao, but maybe also a touchstone for that generation that had been defined as much by ETA and socialist politics of the 60s as anything. A deep introspective, the book connects the lives of that generation with the city of Bilbao. As Paddy Woodworth says, “Part tormented hymn, part searing personal memoir, all ruthless interrogation and self-interrogation, it is also a tribute to the Basque city of iron and titanium, Bilbao, an unblinking if at times uneven gaze from its gutters to its skylines.

61RUgbFhl-L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Basque mythology, for kids

Basque mythology is full of great characters, from the basajaun, the giants of the forrest, to the bedeviling lamiak and Mari, the Lady of the mountains, and herensuge, a giant serpent that has between one and seven heads. Olentzero, the Basque Santa Claus, was originally a giant, the only one to survive the news that Jesus was born. These are great stories, and now there is an illustrated version of these stories for children. At this time, it is only in Basque, Spanish and French,  but maybe it will be translated to English too! I’d sure love to share these stories with my daughter!

Berriak for February, 2015

Here is a round-up of a few items I thought were notable.

463858986Inaki Williams became the first black player to score a goal for Athletic Bilbao in their 117 year history. You may know that Athletic Bilbao only recruits Basque players, players from the Basque Country. Inaki was born in Bilbao to parents from Ghana and Liberia. Clearly his parents have pride in their new home, as they named their son Inaki.

basque-soccer-friendly2Keeping with the soccer theme, there is an update on the effort to bring Basque soccer to Boise. The effort, lead by Argia Beristain, has secured participation by both sides. The teams have not been finalized, though it is likely to be the same Athletic Bilbao against a MLS team from the Pacific Northwest (Seattle, Portland, or Vancouver). And, a date has been set: July 29! More details can be found here.

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 2.42.25 PMIrene Peralta of Munchies magazine has a five-part series on the food of the Basque Country. In 5 roughly 15 minute videos, she covers the txokos of San Sebastian, the markets, and some of the best restaurants in the world. A great introduction to Basque cuisine.

51ERBzMF2ULBegoña Echeverria is a professor at the University of California, Riverside, who has had a long interest in Basque culture and, more specifically, the world of Basque witches. Her researches led her down a path that has culminated in a novel, The Hammer of Witches. Inspired in part by songs she heard as a child, the novel explores the life of a young woman in a small Basque town that has its share of mystery.

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 3.02.06 PMCanoe.ca has a series of photos of the ancient carnival of Ituren, in which men dress up as bears and other mystical creatures, a carnival centered on sheepherding. Some anthropologists argue that it is the oldest pre-Indo-European carnival still being practiced in Europe. Regardless of the origins, the photos are simply fantastic. Taking place at the end of every January, this looks like something to make a trip for.

musean.jpgThe site fivethirtyeight has an interesting article about games for kids, with the main point that a lot of kids’ games (think Candyland) do not really challenge kids in any real way. Interestingly, they highlight the Basque card game Mus as a game that does challenge kids and is highly rated precisely for the way it encourages critical thinking and mental skills.

Zaindari-Ikusezina

Two New Basque Novels: The Hammer of Witches and The Invisible Guardian

The Basque Country is central to two new Basque novels that

Hammer-of-WitchesThe Hammer of Witches, by Begoña Echeverria, takes place during the Spanish Inquisition, a time when Basques accused other Basques of being witches, when witches were burned for presumed heresy against the Church, and when a few brave souls fought back against such maleficent forces. Echeverria’s novel, though fictional, takes place during the peak of the Inquisition, as a cast of characters including a priest, a mysterious woman, and a young lady all navigate this dangerous time. Echeverria did extensive research to make the setting of her novel as historically accurate as possible. Here is an interview both about her motivation and her approach to writing this novel. The book can be purchased form the Center for Basque Studies.

Zaindari-IkusezinaThe Invisible Guardian (El guardián invisible in Spanish and Zaindari Ikusezina in Basque) by Dolores Redondo, isn’t exactly new. Published in 2013, Redondo’s novel takes place in the modern Basque Country, in the valley of Baztan. It follows a young detective, Amaia, who’s job is to uncover the mystery behind some recent murders. However, there are elements of the supernatural, of Basque legend, that creep into the story, and that confuse Amaia’s investigation. Could those stories her grandmother told her as a little girl be true? Could the fantastic creatures of legend be responsible for the murders?

Unfortunately, The Invisible Guardian isn’t available in English, yet, though an English translation is expected in 2015. There is, however, a comic book in the works and possible movie plans. Further, The Invisible Guardian is the first in a series of three novels following Amaia’s adventures in the Basque Country. Redondo has been labeled the rising Basque star of crime fiction, combining the standard tropes of that genre with a strong heroine and fantastical elements from Basque mythology to create something new.

Both of these novels sound intriguing and I’m looking forward to reading both.

Priest of Pirates by Guillermo Zubiaga

Azalak2The third and final installment of Guillermo Zubiaga’s epic about Basque whaling, Joanes or the Basque Whaler: Priest of Pirates, follows the final exploits of Guillermo’s hero, Joanes. This graphic novel, based on historical documents of Basque derring-do on the high seas, culminates the grand adventures of Joanes and his crew as they encounter deadly pirates, an even deadlier monster whale, and mythical creatures from Basque myth.

I won’t spoil the story, but suffice it to say it takes Joanes and his crew to the depths of the ocean, to the coasts of New Foundland, and through glacial fields. Along the way, Joanes and the crew encounter a monster killer whale, a lamiak, various Native American tribes, and British and Danish pirates. It is a roller coaster ride that is fast paced and covers a lot of ground and time. Compared to the previous volumes, it felt both grander in scope and thus a bit less action oriented (though there is plenty of action).

As with the previous volumes, there are so many references to history and myth that I really found myself wishing to know more. Guillermo opens the volume with a little bit of background, particularly regarding the skull chalice that graces the cover. I understand that Guillermo is working on collecting the three volumes into one graphic novel (which provides him with an opportunity to correct some mistakes that crept in). I sincerely hope that it is annotated to provide that historical and mythological context the story and art are based upon.

The story is a rowdy jaunt through Basque history that is delightful, both for the art and for the cultural references. I highly recommend it and look forward to the collected volume!

Zorionak Guillermo!

Sons of the Dawn: A Basque Odyssey by Hank Nuwer

sonsofthedawnwebMy dad has mentioned stories about how sheep herders were treated in cow country. My dad was posted in the hills surrounding Malheur County in Oregon and Owyhee County in Idaho, particularly around Silver City, and while he hasn’t gone into any great detail, there certainly were tensions between cattle folk and sheep folk. And it seems the Basques were somehow in the middle of it.

Hank Nuwer takes these types of historical incidents and builds his novel, Sons of the Dawn, around them. Inspired by newspaper accounts of Basque herders being attacked by cowboys or buckaroos, Nuwer’s novel focuses on that time in the late 1800s when hostilities between the two were particularly tense. Nuwer has an unique perspective on the situation as he is a national expert on hazing and bullying, and his story is reflected through that lens.

Sons of the Dawn is inspired both by newspaper accounts and by Nuwer’s own experiences working with Basque herders, as well as his visit to the Gernika Peace Museum. I haven’t read it yet, but it is high on my reading list. Anyone who has read it, let me know what you thought!

For a few interviews with Hank Nuwer about his novel and the road that lead him to writing it (including an interlude with famous Basque-American author Robert Laxalt), see this article at Nuvo.net and this one at IndyStar.com. The book can be purchased at Amazon.com.

Robert Laxalt: Story of a Storyteller by Warren Lerude

Lerude ppbk cover.inddProbably most Basque-Americans are vaguely familiar with who Robert Laxalt was, though the Laxalt name might be more recognizable because of his brother, Paul Laxalt, who was a Senator from and Governor of Nevada. Robert was a writer who distilled the Basque-American experience into simple but stark stories of life in the Nevada hills. His stories explored Basque identity both in the American West as well as in the Basque Country, which was the focus of a couple of his books. My favorite book of his, though, doesn’t deal with the Basques at all. A Man In The Wheatfield deals with a small rural western American town and the people and their fears that govern the life within the town. It’s been a long time and I’ve forgotten most of it, but I remember a scene dealing with rattlesnakes that was pretty intense (clearly, I need to go back and read his books again!). The other minor anecdote I have about Laxalt is that, by pure chance, browsing a used bookstore in Albuquerque I ran across a signed copy of one of his books, a cool buried treasure I chanced upon.

If you haven’t read any of his books, I would highly recommend them, even to someone with minimal or no interest in the Basques themselves. Laxalt’s writing is wonderful and paints a vivid picture of life in the American West. It’s not for nothing that he was nominated for the Pulitzer twice.

This all brings me to a new book, a biography of Laxalt by Warren Lerude entitled Robert Laxalt: Story of a Storyteller, published by the Center for Basque Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno. I haven’t read Professor Lerude’s biography yet, but I’m hoping it captures that magic I encountered in reading Laxalt’s words. You can read some advance praise about the book here and here.