THE BASQUE HISTORY OF THE WORLD by Mark Kurlansky

THE BASQUE HISTORY OF THE WORLD

KIRKUS REVIEW

A comprehensive view of all things Basque, from the author of Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World (1997). The Basque History of the World is an honorable title, alerting readers to its singularly Basque-centric mix of cultural studies, history, and politics. The writing is direct and accessible, although limited by the occasional descriptive clichÇ (—jagged mountains” and “crisp fall days—). It’s most interesting when describing the periods when Basque history intersects with the history of the larger world. For example, in a section on the Spanish Civil War, Kurlansky utilizes quotes from survivors of the 1937 bombing of Guernica by Franco’s forces, the first large-scale use of air power against a civilian population, to create a sense of suspense, dread, and terror. The bravery of members of the Basque underground, who helped over 700 downed Allied fliers escape from Nazi-occupied territory to England during WWII, is also depicted through compelling first-person recollections. The last third of the book, covering the post-WWII period and the radicalization of a faction of the Basque independence movement, is most problematic. While Kurlansky adeptly explains the logic for Basque autonomy and presents the most radical wings” justification for its historical use of terrorism, his analysis too often accepts the Basque view at face value and offers no independent perspective. Perhaps this is because Kurlansky is enamored of his subject, especially the Basque language, Euskera. Euskera warrants attention, as it’s a unique non-Indo-European language with no known linguistic relatives. Kurlansky knows the Basques well and includes many entertaining anecdotes, myths, and facts about them, all of which reflect a quaint Basque chauvinism. According to the author, the Basque are: probably the original Europeans, the first Europeans to cultivate tobacco, the first bankers in Spain, the most devout Catholics in the world, and among the inventors of beach resorts. In its entirety, this is an informative but ethnocentric history that readers should approach with their critical faculties intact. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Oct. 14th, 1999
ISBN: 0-8027-1349-1
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Walker
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1999




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