The buzz about the Guggenheim Bilbao aside, the Basques seldom get good press--from the 12th-century Codex of Calixtus
("A Basque or Navarrese would do in a French man for a copper coin") to current news items about ETA, the Basque nationalist group. Mark Kurlansky, author of Cod
, sets out to change all that in The Basque History of the World
"The singular remarkable fact about the Basques is that they still exist," Kurlansky asserts. Without a defined country (other than Euskadi, otherwise known as "Basqueland"), with no known related ethnic groups, the Basques are an anomaly in Europe. What unites the Basques, above all, is their language--Euskera. According to ETA, "Euskera is the quintessence of Euskadi. So long as Euskera is alive, Euskadi will live." To help provide a complete picture of the Basques, Kurlansky looks at their political, economic, social, and even culinary history, from the valiant Basque underground in World War II to medieval whalers to modern makers of the gâteau Basque. The most affecting chapter focuses on Guernica, a small market town bombed by German planes for over three hours on April 26, 1937, and uses interviews with survivors to illustrate the horror of the attack.
Kurlansky is clearly enamored of the Basques, which leads him to see them in a uniformly positive light. That rosy outlook aside, The Basque History of the World is an excellent introduction to these romantic people. Are they the original Europeans? Kurlansky doesn't weigh in on the issue, preferring instead to honor the Basque request Garean gareana legez--let us be what we are. --Sunny Delaney
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