From time to time, my darlin’ wife finds a book that captivates her so much that she wants everyone to read it. And, as I neatly fit into the category of “everyone,” I try to oblige. The book is often a bit different than what I find on my own reading list, but so far she has never disappointed me with her suggestions.
A few weeks ago she was quite insistent that I read Guernica by Dave Boling. And since it was close to our 35th anniversary and I wanted to do something especially nice for her, I brought the book on a summer vacation trip we had.
I don’t know about you, but it usually takes me at least a couple of dozen pages to get into a new book. For the first few chapters, it is up in the air as to whether the book will languish for months or years on my bedside table or if it will become a constant companion for a few days until I can finish it. Much to my literary embarrassment, I still haven’t gotten to that “constant companion” point with Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities. I’ve been feeling such guilt about that for years, and now I’m so glad to have gotten that off my chest. But I digress.
Guernica started to captivate me when I ran across an early description of a character that will figure prominently in the rest of the book. She is a sixteen-year-old girl, the daughter of the first character we meet in the book, and she is growing up in a small Basque town in the first half of the twentieth century. Here is the introduction to the author’s description that inspired and motivated me:
Had there been reason for the citizens of Guernica to hold a referendum on the most popular person in the village, Miren Ansotegui would have won without competition. She was only sixteen, but she seemed to encourage people to take part in her youth rather than give them reason to be jealous of it. She reminded them how life looked before it became so complicated.
It was more than the way she floated through the streets of town, so lean and loose limbed, her black braid a pendulum swinging from one hip to the other with each stride. More appealing was her knack for disarming people, for drawing them near, as if initiating them into her own club of the unrelentingly well intended.
There was no trick to it beyond good nature. As she spread warm greetings to everyone she passed, she uncannily inquired about that single portion of their lives that made them most proud. She always opened a gate to somewhere they each wished to go. And then she listened.
The novel then goes on to recount examples of Miren’s interactions with people that allow them to feel loved and encouraged and given the opportunity to pass that on to their own family and neighbors.
I wish that could be said about me and my relationships: “He initiated them into his own club of the unrelentingly well intended. He always opened a gate to somewhere they each wished to go. And then he listened.”