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Book details
  • Genre:FICTION
  • SubGenre:Sagas
  • Language:English
  • Pages:410
  • eBook ISBN:9798350923346
  • Paperback ISBN:9798350923339

Voices of the Basque Signet

by Gala Gabirondo

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Based on people and events in the author's own family, the overlapping tales move back and forth across time and generations starting with Mikel's fascination with the family ring, to the reflections of the irreverent Basque matriarch Amaia, alone in her sprawling mansion during the siege of Madrid. Her anarchist son Arturo, caught between his village roots and political activism, fled to New York a decade earlier. There he met and married Monserrat, a Puerto Rican woman holding a secret. She finds herself in Madrid on the eve of the Spanish Civil War, waiting nervously for her husband to re-join her and their three children for a new life in Republican Spain. Their unexpected flight from Spain back to her native Puerto Rico is told through the eyes of her rebellious daughter Esmeralda, whose untamed imagination holds the key to her resilience in New York, Los Angeles, and a small town in the hills of Northern California. "Voices of the Basque Signet" flows from the mountains of the Basque country and old Puerto Rico to Madrid, San Juan, New York, Los Angeles, and revolutionary Nicaragua. The women and men of the Itsasmendía, Quijano, and Romero clans navigate the upheavals of the twentieth century with humor, hope, and tenacity. Throughout, the Basque signet ring will change hands and reverse fortunes in this saga of love, war, secrets, and survival, reminding us that we are more than our best deeds or our worst shortcomings: we are part of a legacy.
After the death of his godfather, Mikel, a would-be revolutionary, inherits the Basque signet ring, a priceless family heirloom that has fascinated and eluded him since he was a child. How did his grandfather—an indentured Basque peasant—acquire such a valuable ring? Different answers lurk in this rich tapestry of family memoirs. The truth—or versions of it—will test Mikel's beliefs in his cause, his family, and himself. Based on people and events in the author's own family, the overlapping tales move back and forth across time and generations, starting with the reflections of Mikel's great-grandmother Amaia Itsasmendía Galarza. In the winter of 1939, the irreverent Basque matriarch talks to the photograph of her deceased husband Arturo Quijano as she burns furniture to keep warm during the fascist siege of Madrid. A strange, silent visitor sits with her, knitting and listening as Amaia recounts her days as a farm girl, a daring smuggler, and a maid in the sprawling Quijano de Goñi mansion. It was here she met and fell in love with Arturo when he was the young man of the house. Born in secret, their son Emmanuel is raised by Amaia's father Patxi, in the emblematic mountain village of Galduamendí. After a difficult, indentured childhood, Emmanuel, deemed by Patxi as "too clever for his own good," travels with his mother to Madrid. Though he thrives at his father's house, he finds himself caught between his rural Basque roots, his upper-class Spanish life, and his newfound anarchist politics. A violent general strike and an affective indiscretion with Nina, the beguiling daughter of a Spanish army captain, forces him back to Galduamendi. There, his grandfather helps him sneak across the border into Basque France. Ending up in New York City's "Little Spain," he meets and marries Monserrat Romero, a young woman from Puerto Rico who is beautiful, troubled—and pregnant. Seeking the life of tradition and leisure she once had in Puerto Rico, Monserrat convinces Emmanuel to relocate the family back to Madrid. She leaves first, with their three children in tow. Waiting nervously for her husband to re-join her in the old mansion, she yearns to be a part of the aristocratic world that is rapidly disappearing under the new Republican Spain. Monserrat's surreptitious return to Puerto Rico in an old tramp steamer is told through the eyes of her rebellious daughter Esmeralda, whose untamed imagination holds the key to her resilience. Young Esmeralda falls under the spell of her mother's Caribbean culture and her family's deep spiritual beliefs. These will form the foundation for the shamanic practices she will develop over the course of her life in New York, Los Angeles, and the small towns of the Northern California coast where she struggles to raise Mikel and her youngest son, Kiko. Mikel remembers a free-ranging childhood cut short when he is unjustly thrown in juvenile hall. Later, he travels through Latin America. His militancy and disillusionment with the Sandinista Revolution and his brush with death are chronicled alongside the lives of his ancestors, revealing the threads of pride, ingenuity, and trauma that weave through his family history. Ring in hand, his pilgrimage back to his grandfather's village brings an unexpected encounter with the ghosts of his family's past.
About the author
Gala Gabirondo, child of Puerto Rican-Basque immigrants, has spent decades living, working, and traveling in Europe and the Americas. As an accomplished political analyst, Gala published numerous non-fiction books, articles, and essays before taking up as a novelist to rediscover the joy of family storytelling.

Book Reviews

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Language as the object VOICES of the BASQUE SIGNET by Gala Gabirondo Several generations of family own a flat golden oval of a signet ring, which “brings good luck to whoever wears it - but only if their heart is pure.” Mythic family figures evolve through six generations originating in Basque Spain through Puerto Rico and the United States. The stories are as much about the ring and its effects on a passionate family as they are about language. Indeed, language is the true star of this book. And what language! Most of the book is in English, whether lower East Side New York or North Coast Californian depending on the speaker. Other languages are an integral part of the action - from the family’s origins as Basque sheep herders speaking Euskera (EU); to a pure Castellan Spanish (Sp); to ribald Puerto Rican Spanish; with a small bit of French… The typesetting for this book is gorgeous in its spacing and fonts, inviting the reader into the labyrinthine story. There is even an original Basque font designed “by Thierry Arsaut, courtesy of North American Basque Association”. Perfectly justified typesetting translates the non English languages at the bottom of each page where the words appear. Unlike an intrusive footnote, these translations become an accessible language study in themselves, and perhaps this is the true magic of the Signet Ring. This book should become a proficient method of learning Spanish and some Basque, while entertaining the reader with interwoven stories of family love and drama based on the BASQUE SIGNET. Read more
Fascinating history ! Thoroughly enjoyed reading this family history as it familiarized me with Spain and its history, as well as the family lineage of the author. Chronology was a bit difficult to follow, but went back consistently to get up to date and the writing and stories were very enjoyable - will read again surely ! ~Jim Read more
Voices of the Basque Signet First of all---don't think you have to share the author's Basque and Caribbean heritage to enjoy this book. Even if your background is British Isles, or Greek/Mediterranean, or Indian Sub-continent, or whatever, the stories the author tells are of family, of humanity, of generations, which crosses all cultures. Gabirondo is a talented story-teller and his stories move fast. He tells each family story in a chapter. The chapters each cover a particular character, time period, and location. If you exercise a little patience, the stories will gradually form a tapestry or mosaic, eventually painting an illuminating picture. It may remind you of your own family tapestry that shaped and formed your life. Each little piece of the tapestry is a gem in itself, and the whole is greater than the sum, as the saying goes. Well worth your reading time. Read more
A great journey Voices of the Basque Signet begins as a series of disparate voices and stories, but soon weaves into a taut and compelling narrative that spans generations, continents and realities. The Basque diaspora is a world probably unknown to most, but Gala Gabirondo brings it to life. The novel is a family history at root, but transcends into universal themes of home and belonging, love and loss and the enduring power of memory. It's a great journey I am richer for having taken. Read more
Voices of the Basque Signet A very good and riveting read! The voices and characters are very well rendered, and the historical and cultural settings are very well researched. The book is a page turner and having shared a similar multicultural background that spans Europe, Central America and the United States, I feel the author has captured the essence of a complex cultural and historical heritage that brings me back to my roots. Bravo! Read more
The basque signet I could not put this book down! As an immigrant, myself, I find the stories in “Voices” to be fascinating. They reach back several generations and bring the tumultuous times of the 19th and 20th centuries to life. I can relate to much of the political and cultural drama (and trauma) from my own family’s experience. It got me thinking about similar trends today. The organization of the book is different than what I am used to. The sections themselves are chronologically ordered, but the chapters within the sections are ordered by “voices” of each family generation. Once I realized what was going on, it helped me to understand how the lives of the older family members affected the lives of the more recent members. I came to really love these characters! And the ring? I won’t give that story away… Read more
Voices of the Basque Signet Voices is an engaging historical saga spanning five generations, very loosely anchored around the authors Basque and Puerto Rican ancestors and his own life. The political and social situations anchor their lives as they frequently find themselves uprooted by those circumstances. When we read our family genealogies, we seldom understand why our grandparents or great grandparents immigrated to "America." Gala Gabirondo has explored deeply to reveal how both political and social instability resulted in dramatic upheaval of their lives. The stories of his own life are no less compelling. Like a lost treasure, the story of the signet ring runs through the generations. No matter your background, I think you will find this story well worth your time. Enjoy! Read more