Category Archives: Books

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 This graphic novel, based on historical documents of Basque derring-do on the high seas, culminates the grand adventures of Joanes and his crew as they encounter deadly pirates, an even deadlier monster whale,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.

The Basque Diaspora Webscape by Pedro Oiarzabal

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to do any updates. I hope to do a series of them over the next few weeks and get reasonably “caught up”.

Diaspora Online_PBack_cover.inddPedro Oiarzabal has been a dedicated researcher of the use of the internet and modern media to connect peoples, especially diasporas separated by great distances and, in many cases, language and local culture. His most recent book on the subject just came out. The Basque Diaspora Webscape: Identity, Nation, and Homeland, 1990s-2010s looks at how the internet helps not only transmit culture, but helps shape identity, at how the internet provides a vehicle to promote culture in a new way. I haven’t had the chance to read it yet, but it looks like a very interesting look at how an ancient culture such as that of the Basques intersects with the most modern means of communication to create something new.

You can learn more about the book by listening to Pedro’s interview for Radio Euskadi (in Spanish).

Zorionak Pedro!

January 20, La Tamborrada

imagenes5aJanuary 20. The day that the entire populace of the city of Donostia-San Sebastian stop what they are doing and have a massive street party that lasts until dawn. Donostia, the most beautiful city that I’ve had the fortune and pleasure to visit. January 20, the day that the city of Donostia stops and celebrates my birthday.

Ok, maybe that’s not quite right. Oh, it is true that the city celebrates the entire night, with roving bands dressed as chefs and others drumming, wielding larger-than-life spoons and forks. It’s probably where I did my first gaupasa, though it’s hard to be sure — gaupasak are often a little fuzzy. But I do remember that the Parte Vieja was probably one of the most exciting places during one of the most exciting events I’ve ever been to.

But, it is a bit of an exaggeration to say that, every year on January 20, Donostia celebrates my birthday.

Rather, January 20 is the feast day of San Sebastian, the obvious patron saint of, er, San Sebastian. La Tamborrada (Danborrada in Euskara) has its origins in locals mocking foreign soldiers in the city, marching around the city banging on things like drums (according to the ever reliable Wikipedia).

imagenes16aJust in time for those of you longing to experience La Tamborrada from far away, or wanting to reminisce past gaupasak in the Parte Vieja, or just interested in the history of this glorious event, a book has just been released honoring and celebrating this fiesta. Tamborrada-Danborrada, by Mikel G. Gurpegui and Javier Mª Sada, delves into the history of La Tamborrada, including describing all of the companies that wander the streets throughout the night. For those of us who can’t actually join in the festivities, this is a suitable substitute.

Whatever excuse all of those people have for celebrating the entire night of January 20, I hope that a few of them raise a glass in honor of my birthday ;)

Joanes or the Basque Whaler, Part 2, by Guillermo Zubiaga

When we last saw Joanes and his crew, they had made their first successful whale hunt. Part 2 of Joanes or the Basque Whaler, Whale Island, picks up with the rewards of that hunt. And, along with the rewards, come the price of success as Joanes begins to overstep his abilities as he sees greater glory.

This is the second part of Guillermo Zubiaga’s epic about what he refers to as the Basque wild west, the adventures of the Basque whalers. The men who dared all to sail the seas and cross the oceans, looking for opportunity. It is the same spirit that sent their descendants to the American West, sometimes in conflict with the American cowboys, to find new opportunities.

As before, Guillermo tells his tale primarily through his fantastically detailed art. From the various ships sailing the seas to the cobblestone streets of a Basque village to the whale rendering station on the coast of America, Guillermo’s attention to detail brings the story to life.  His faces convey the emotion to pull the story along, especially as the Basque crew encounter the unknown in first America and then the fantastic.

The story moves fast, from the first kill of Joanes and his crew to their encounter with the natives of North America and to the climax of this issue when Joanes confronts the killer black whale. There is just enough mystery to keep the story engaging and Guillermo makes judicious use of historical facts to ground this fictional story in real Basque history.

This is a great sequel to Guillermo’s first issue The Flying Whaleboat. I greatly look forward to the conclusion in issue three.

I have two items on my wish list for Guillermo. First, it would be awesome for him to do a “Handbook of Basque Mythology,” similar in vein to the old superhero handbooks. Even one issue with the primary deities of the Basque pre-Christian religion would be wonderful.

Second, I would love to see a commentary track for Joanes, with Guillermo describing his inspiration for various scenes and people, where references images might be from, and what historical documents he is pulling from. I think it would make a great addition to an already wonderful story.