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…