HOMELAND by Fernando Aramburu

Homeland is a wonderfully rich and intricate novel of two Basque families during the decades of ETA violence.  Aramburu takes the thinnest possible tissue slice of a community, the  lives of these two families, and examines the impact of civil strife on individuals, families, and communities.

It’s not a political novel, we don’t learn anything about the separatist movement beyond the slogans.  We do learn how people respond to threats, fear, and loss.  How the young are manipulated, how a cause can be cover for the selfish and malicious, how much courage is required to live with integrity, loyalty and love.  And how bitter is regret.

The families, lifelong best friends, are divided when one man becomes the target of ETA harassment.  Immediately he and his family are ostracized in the village, from either fear or conviction.  His murder is the central event of the story, dividing all their lives into ‘before’ and ‘after’.  Aramburu spins threads from each character, weaving back and forth between them, between their pasts and the present, and leaves the threads dangling into the future.

The 2018 disbandment of ETA and its apology for the decades of violence and murders committed for its political goals have prompted efforts toward social reconciliation and justice.  The themes of responsibility and forgiveness, social and personal, are central to the novel.  The widow returns to the village as the novel opens, determined to reclaim her life.  She is ready to forgive her husband’s killer, but she wants him to acknowledge responsibility and to ask for her forgiveness.  That issue of guilt and forgiveness ultimately seems straightforward and possible compared to achieving reconciliation with her estranged friend; can the wounds of such intimate betrayal ever heal?  In a poignant, wonderfully ambiguous final scene the two women meet unexpectedly in the village square.  Eyes watch as neither woman will alter her path to avoid the encounter, whispers speculate and recall “they were such friends”, they meet…



Quotation for a Rainy Morning

But of course we have to fill our lives with reasons, have an order and a direction, provide each new day with a really stimulating reason to jump out of bed, if not with illusions, at least with energy and keep pure inactivity from paralyzing you right down to your thoughts.

from Homeland by Fernando Aramburu

On Memory

That’s how I remember our friendship.  We passed our stories back and forth until they merged.  And with each pass, we lightened our own burden….

What mattered most was that memory was stripped of bitterness and retold with joy.  And once it took root, it grew bigger, this story of how things had been.  It was a voice speaking through us, inexhaustible, it seemed, past resentment and sorrow.  Past all that could not be resurrected.

from Walking On The Ceiling    Aysegul Savas

Grandpa’s Barn – A U.P. Bookstore

Copper Harbor is a tiny town at the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  Quite literally the end of the road (US 41), any farther and you’ll be in Canada.  It’s hard to fault a town with the glorious Lake Superior on one side and tree covered mountains on the other,img_0475 but, if one could. it would have been that it lacked a bookstore.  That one blot on perfection was remedied a few years ago with the opening of Grandpa’s Barn.

The charming shop has a small well-chosen stock of titles to interest the fair weather tourists and to supply good reading to the hardy few who live here year ’round.  I particularly liked the invitation to the Simple Pleasures Book Club where you can enjoy “dark chocolate and stimulating discussions”.


Ishmael and Religion – Quotations from Moby Dick

I’ll try a pagan friend, thought I, since Christian kindness has proved by hollow country.

I cherish the greatest respect towards everybody’s religious obligations, never mind how comical.

…Heaven have mercy on us all — Presbyterians and Pagans alike — for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly needing mending.

I have no objection to any person’s religion, be it what it may, so long as that person does not kill or insult any other person, because that person don’t believe it also.  But when a man’s religion becomes really frantic; when it is a positive torment to him; and, in fine, makes this earth of ours an uncomfortable inn to lodge in; then I think it high time to …argue the point

Finding myself thus hard pushed (question if Queequeg belongs to a church) I replied, “I mean, sir, the same ancient Catholic Church to which you and I…and all of us, and every mother’s son and soul of us belong; the great and everlasting First Congregation of this whole worshipping world; we all belong to that; only some of us cherish some queer crotchets noways touching the grand belief; in that we all join hands.”