By Sydney Avey
Who are the people we come from? Dee stops asking that question. But after her secretive mother dies, people who each know part of her story come forward.
Geography and culture play a critical role in grounding readers in a fictional story. I chose a Basque heritage for my first novel’s main character precisely because I knew nothing about the Basques. It was the perfect choice. Dolores Moraga Carter (Dee) knows nothing about the Basques either, but she will learn. And her discovery will change her life.
In 2014, The Sheep Walker’s Daughter received an honorable mention in a literary contest sponsored by the Center for Basque Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno. Given the fact that I am not Basque, I felt highly honored. In October 2017, the Center published the second edition of The Sheep Walker’s Daughter as a Basque Originals.
An early reviewer characterized the book as a coming-of-age story of a middle-aged woman. I hadn’t thought of it this way, but it rings true. Part of figuring out who we are is understanding our family history. I wrote this story to explore the motives my own mother had in keeping our family heritage a secret.
It isn’t uncommon for a novelist to explore troubling family issues in the guise of fiction. In the process, authors make choices about which personal details to include and which to change. I chose a different heritage from my own because I wanted to stand in Dee’s shoes, free of preconceptions, and explore a culture I knew nothing about.
Why the Basques?
I didn’t have a budget to visit the country I chose, but I needed to have some sense of place to write credibly. I have been to Barcelona and love it. Having some knowledge of that region gave me a place to start some virtual road tripping (films, YouTube) and develop a sense of the terrain.
A Google search led me to the Basque population centers in the United States. Bakersfield, CA was on the list, just a four hour drive from my home in the Sierra Nevada foothills of Yosemite, That allowed me to do some original research.
The Basque culture is a mystery to many Americans, even those of Basque origin. After the first edition came out, many people stepped up to tell me that their heritage was Basque. That they didn’t know much about the culture affirmed that I made the right decision. The Basque theme also popped up in reviews.
“This historical novel introduced me to the Basque culture.”
“The Basque culture was always of interest to me and she described it beautifully from the way of life to the food.”
“The well-researched Basque culture of California provides a credible backdrop for the characters’ emotional journeys as they negotiate between self and family, coldness and warmth, old hurts and new faith.”
I hope one day to visit the Basque land.