Book Prologue
  Author Interview
  Snapshots & Sounds
  About the Author
  Discussion Guide
  News & Reviews

Chapter Excerpts

The Spanish Dead

Remembering the Bullring

Images Spilling From Fingers

Save Spain!

A Wearable Pair of Boots


The Last Refugee

Guernica in Gernika
From the bestselling author of Beethoven's Hair comes a stirring narrative account of the bombing of the town that inspired one of the world's most celebrated and controversial works of art, the painting Guernica's profound impact on the politics and culture of the twentieth century, and the artist whose immense passion and artistic vision are unequaled in modern history.

On April 26, 1937, in the late afternoon of a busy market day in the Basque town of Gernika in northern Spain, the German Luftwaffe began the relentless bombing and machine-gunning of businesses, homes and villagers to test a new type of warfare waged from the air at the request of General Francisco Franco and his rebel forces. Three-and-a-half hours later, the village lay in ruins, its population decimated. This act of terror and unspeakable crueltythe first intentional, large-scale attack against a nonmilitary target in modern warfareoutraged the world, and compelled a Spanish painter to respond with artistic fury. Pablo Picasso, an expatriate living in Paris, reacted immediately to the devastation in his homeland by beginning work on the canvas that would become his testament against the horrors of war.

Guernica has become widely considered the greatest artwork of the twentieth century in the sixty-five years since its creation, and has been claimed as a powerful symbolic image first by the embattled government of Republican Spain and then, over time, by the international communist party, American artists opposing the war in Vietnam, international peace organizations, Basque separatists, survivors of the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and people everywhere.

Weaving themes of conflict and redemption, doom and transcendence, and featuring some of the century's most memorable and infamous figures, including Adolf Hitler, Eleanor Roosevelt, George Orwell, Jackson Pollock, Lillian Hellman, and Picasso himself, Martin follows this renowned masterwork from its fevered creation through its journey across decades, from many countries of Europe to America andfinally and triumphantlyto Spain. Picasso's War is a book that vividly demonstrates how vital art is to human lives and how sometimes it even transfigures tragedy, a story that delivers an unforgettable portrait of an artistic genius whose visionary rendering of the terrible wounds of war still resonates profoundly today.

Picasso' War is a fetching and well-crafted account of Pablo Picasso's huge and astounding painting Guernica, that has come to symbolize the elemental barbarism of the recently deceased 20th century. . . . Martin deftly weaves the story of the painting into the background of the rise of Fascism and the course of the Spanish war. . . His book is beguiling . . . even in tone, illuminating, deft, indeed a painterly little book.


Imaginative cultural historian Martin crafts a well-integrated and fascinating account of Picassoís famous painting and the horrible events that inspired it. The authorís signature approach to seemingly offbeat subjects is careful research filtered through a novelistic sensibility to grasp the inherent story, which he unfolds in the engaging, almost offhand manner of a fictional amateur sleuth. Martin is, first and foremost, a consummate storyteller who deftly weaves such multiple disciplines as politics, history, art, science, and even current events into a narrative forming a coherent whole. . . . An engrossing story of a landmark work of art and the struggle "to fashion meaning out of unimaginable evil, once more to offer hope."


Martin meticulously describes the painting's creation and context [and] focuses on the controversies that haunted the canvas for decades. . . . Within this larger narrative, he weaves a memoir of his own trek to visit Guernica, which finally arrived in Spain in the 1980s. The culmination of this thread, when Martin coincidentally views the painting on September 11, 2001, brings the narrative into the contemporary world and highlights Guernica's brutal relevance today.


Martin's poignant portrayal of Picasso and gripping history of a painting that galvanized a world assaulted by new extremes of systematic violence illuminates the complex and always provocative nexus of art, politics, and social conscience.


Russell Martin has created his own masterpiece of literature in Picasso's War, telling the story of the bombing, the historic painting that resulted, Picasso's emotional commitment to the project, the political results for Spain--and what became of the painting in the years since. It is a most unusual and gripping work.



What do you think an artist is? An imbecile who has only eyes, if he is a painter, or ears if he is a musician, or a lyre in every chamber of his heart if he is a poet, or even, if he is a boxer, just his muscles? Far from it: at the same time, he is also a political being, constantly aware of the heartbreaking, passionate, or delightful things that happen in the world, shaping himself completely in their image. How could it be possible to feel no interest in other people, and with a cool indifference to detach yourself from the very life which they bring to you so abundantly? No, painting is not done to decorate apartments. It is an instrument of war.