War and Turpentine was nominated for the Man Booker International,
and was selected one of the ten best books of 2016 by The New York Times
‘War and Turpentine delivers a blast of narrative fresh air’ (Dominic Smith, New York Times).
“War and Turpentine has all the markings of a future classic” (Neel Mukherjee, The Guardian)
“a rich, fictionalized memoir” (The Times)
“a richly detailed excavation of a life and a thoughtful exploration of familial memory” (Kirkus Review)
“an affecting and unusual book” and “a masterly portrait of a man’s grief over lost love and his commemoration of it in art” (The Sunday Telegraph)
a “masterly book about memory, art, love and war” (The New York Times).
International succes for WAR AND TURPENTINE, translated into 26 languages
Nomination Premio Strega Europeo.
English translation by Harvill Secker, London, and Alfred Knopf, New York, and Text, Australia.
Flemish fiction: the best of 2014
The year’s best books
Oorlog en terpentijn (War and Turpentine)
Stefan Hertmans • De Bezige Bij
Though this novel was published in the autumn of 2013, Oorlog en terpentijn (War and Turpentine) won so many prizes this year, we’ve decided to include it here. And besides, it hasn’t been surpassed this year. It is, without a doubt, one of the best novels published in Flanders over the last several years, winning multiple awards, including the prestigious AKO Literature Prize last month.
Author Stefan Hertmans’ grandfather, Urbain Martien, was a corporal who fought in the First World War. He later wrote an account of this harrowing experience and handed it to his grandson just before his death in 1981. It took Hertmans 30 years to muster up the courage to read it.
Eventually, though, he did much more: He turned the account into a novel to honour his grandfather, a man who once gave him a watch when he was a boy, a meaningful heirloom that was shattered in the hands of a clumsy young Stefan. It was an event that stayed with him and filled him with guilt and the determination not to let his grandfather down a second time.
Based solely on his grandfather’s notes, Hertmans’ beautifully written novel overflows with striking imagery and raw emotions.
During the Belle Époque, the well-educated Céline marries a poor and ailing painter. Their son, Urbain, inherits his father’s love for painting and restoration, a passion that has to be put on hold when the war starts.
In the first part of Oorlog en terpentijn, Hertmans reconstructs his grandfather’s childhood – his relationship with his parents and his education. In the second part, the point of view shifts, and Urbain becomes the narrator instead of Hertmans himself, based on the account he left behind of his own experiences during the slaughter of 1914-18.
Urbain eventually becomes a war hero but is crippled by the conflict none the less. The book goes on to recount the love of his life and his eventual marriage, from which Hertmans’ mother is born. This is where the notes that Urbain left his grandson end.
The remainder of Oorlog en terpentijn is based on many long conversations with relatives, concluding an intricate and inward-looking saga. Hertmans tells this harrowing piece of family history with poise and compassion, showing us with intimate detail how lives can be shattered by a single brushstroke.
WAR AND TURPENTINE WILL BE PUBLISHED BY HARVILL SECKER (LONDON) and ALFRED KNOPF (NEW YORK).
English language trailer for War and Turpentine
Due to extensive international attention for War and Turpentine Publishing house De Bezige Bij had an English trailer made for the book. You can watch this trailer here:
Rights sold to:
Hanser Verlag, Berlin, Gallimard, Paris, Harvill Secker, London, Alfred Knopf, New York, Text, New Zealand/Australia, Marsilio, Italia, etc.
Stefan Hertmans’ latest novel, War and Turpentine, published August 2013, is a huge success in Belgium and the Netherlands, but also arouses wide international attention. It is based on some notebooks of his grandfather, containing memoirs of the First World War, written down when he was a man of over seventy. They also contain a breathtaking account of a youth in Ghent in the industrial era before 1900, and show a boy growing up in poverty, with a father who was a fresco painter, and an awe-inspiring mother who had a deep influence on his outlook on life. He works in the iron foundry from his 13th on, enrolls in the Military Academy in 1908, and is sent to war in August 1914. What follows is a minute account of these terrible years, seen through the eyes of a Flemish, catholic, sensitive young man. He gets wounded five times, recovers in Liverpool (where he discovers a secret about his father, who died young from pneumonia), and gets back to the trenches time and again.
After the war he meets his great passion, a proud young woman, who dies of the Spanish Flu in 1919. It is the moment of total catastrophe to him. He is asked to marry her frigid, eldest sister. Again he obeys and does what appears to be his duty.
From then on, he leads the life of a silent painter, copying the great painters such as Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt, Van Dyck and Velazquez.
His grandson, Stefan Hertmans, not only tells the story of this amazing life in a fantastic style and rhythm, but also discovers some amorous secrets hidden in paintings which at first sight seemed to be mere copies.
War and Turpentine is a unique acocunt of a disappeared but rich history of Flanders, a novel about a hidden passion, but also a novel about what war could do with the soul of a humble, fascinating man.
‘The perceptive Hertmans has given voice not only to his
grandfather but to an entire generation.’ **** – de volkskrant
‘With War and Turpentine Stefan Hertmans has written
one of the most moving books of the year.’ ***** – de standaard
‘It’s a masterpiece.’ **** – Humo