War and Turpentine
Stefan Hertmans, David McKay
Mr B's review
An intense, thoughtful fictional memoir blending art, war, love and grief based on notebooks given to the author by his artist grandfather, Urbain detailing his early life in Flanders and in the WWI trenches. The more he learns about Urbain, his love of painting, his proud mother, his grief, the more he makes sense of his own boyhood memories of his black-suited grandfather. A contemplative portrait of a bygone era and a raw insight into the insanity of trench warfare.
WINNER OF THE VONDEL PRIZE 2017
LONGLISTED FOR THE 2017 MAN BOOKER INTERNATIONAL PRIZE
Selected as a Book of the Year 2016 in The Times, Sunday Times and The Economist, and one of the 10 Best Books of 2016 in the New York Times
Shortly before his death, Stefan Hertmans’ grandfather Urbain Martien gave his grandson a set of notebooks containing the detailed memories of his life. He grew up in poverty around 1900, the son of a struggling church painter who died young, and went to work in an iron foundry at only 13. Afternoons spent with his father at work on a church fresco were Urbain’s heaven; the iron foundry an inferno.
During the First World War, Urbain was on the front line confronting the invading Germans, and ever after he is haunted by events he can never forget. The war ends and he marries his great love, Maria Emelia, but she dies tragically in the 1919 flu epidemic. Urbain mourns her bitterly for the rest of his life but, like the obedient soldier he is, he marries her sister at her parents’ bidding. The rest is not quite silence, but a marriage with a sad secret at its heart, and the consolations found in art and painting. War and Turpentine is the imaginative reconstruction of a damaged life across the tumultuous decades of the twentieth century; a deeply moving portrayal of family, grief, love and war.
“War and Turpentine is the astonishing result of Hertmans’ reckoning with his grandfather’s diaries. It is a book that lies at the crossroads of novel, biography, autobiography and history… It seems aching to be called ‘Sebaldian’, and earns the epithet glowingly… In McKay’s lyrical translation, every detail has the heightened luminosity of poetry… War and Turpentine has all the marking of a future classic.” — Neel Mukherjee Guardian “Masterpiece, an accolade often casually bestowed, really does describe this magnificent book… A haunting blend of fact and fiction… Page after page holds you rapt with admiration for both Hertmans’ writing and his hero.” — Peter Kemp Sunday Times, Book of the Year “Hertmans writes with an eloquence reminiscent of W.G. Sebald… a masterly book about memory, art, love and war.” New York Times 10 Best Books of 2016 “A lovingly reimagined life of an ordinary man whose life was for ever marked by the First World War. Fine prose.” The Economist, Book of the Year “Wonderful, full of astonishingly vivid moments of powerful imagery… Hertmans’s book is something else again: it has a quietly resonant personal epic quality that dwarfs all around it.” — David Mills Sunday Times
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