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This book is 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 at the age of 90, Stefan Hertmans' grandfather Urbain gave his grandson a set of notebooks. As Stefan began to read, he found himself drawn into a conversation across the centuries, as Urbain - so quiet and reserved in life - revealed his eloquence and his private passions on the page. Gradually, as he learned of his grandfather's heroics in the First World War, the loss of his great love, and his later years spent seeking solace in art and painting, a portrait emerged of the grandfather he had never fully known. War and Turpentine is an exquisite, loving reconstruction of a man's interior life, at once deeply personal and yet so evocative of many of his generation, affected by the long shadow of war. In beautiful, glimmering prose, Hertmans shows us how our experiences shape us all, and how, even in a life of sorrow and heartache, dignity can be found.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
"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 "A rich, fictional memoir... Death, destruction, obligation, duty - Urbain faces them all and yet he still finds joy in life." -- Fiona Wilson The Times "Skilful and lyrical reconstruction of a life transformed by war, love and art... It is not often a book succeeds on many levels, but War and Turpentine manages to be a mesmerising portrait of an artist as a young man, a significant contribution to First World War literature and a brilliant evocation of a vanished world." -- Malcolm Forbes Herald "Hertmans follows in his grandfather's footsteps in this brilliant and moving imagined reconstruction, his imagination beautifully filling the gaps as he describes "the battle between the transcendent, which he yearned for, and the memory of death and destruction, which held him in its clutches." -- Eithne Farry Daily Express "A masterly treatise on the interconnections of life, art, memory, and heartbreaking love...Hertmans's prose, with a deft translation from McKay, works with the same full palette as Urbain Martien's paintings: vivid, passionate-and in the end, life-affirming." Publishers Weekly "Superb... The central section, which descrives life in the trenches in the First World War and the story of a lost love, is especially evocative" -- Simon Shaw Mail on Sunday "Affecting and unusual... Hertman's first-person construction evokes the brutality of the trenches but also their monotony... But the majority of War and Turpentine is not set in wartime, and deals with remembrance of a different sort. It is the soft edges of history, memory and creation that are its true subject... The heart of the book is a masterly portrait of a man's grief over lost love and his commemoration of it in art." Sunday Telegraph