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Extended Audio Sample War and Turpentine Audiobook, by Stefan Hertmans Click for printable size audiobook cover
0 out of 50 out of 50 out of 50 out of 50 out of 5 0.00 (0 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Stefan Hertmans Narrator: Nicholas Guy Smith Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: August 2016 ISBN: 9780735209213
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The life of Urbain Martien—artist, soldier, survivor of World War I—lies contained in two notebooks he left behind when he died in 1981. In War and Turpentine, his grandson, a writer, retells his grandfather’s story, the notebooks providing a key to the locked chambers of Urbain’s memory.

With vivid detail, the grandson recounts a whole life: Urbain as the child of a lowly church painter, retouching his father’s work, dodging death in a foundry, fighting in the war that altered the course of history, marrying the sister of the woman he truly loved, and being haunted by an ever-present reminder of the artist he had hoped to be and the soldier he was forced to become.

Wrestling with this tale, the grandson straddles past and present, searching for a way to understand his own part in both. As artfully rendered as a Renaissance fresco, War and Turpentine paints an extraordinary portrait of one man’s life and reveals how that life echoed down through the generations.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “It is part the author’s memoir and part a novelization of the grandfather’s memoir—all ably narrated by Nicholas Guy Smith….As a narrator, Smith doesn’t oversell the changes of age but, rather, hints at them. He also allows the author to tell us who is speaking rather than creating distracting voices for the various people in the two men’s lives.


  • “An uncanny work of historical reconstruction. . . . a gritty yet melancholy account of war and memory and art that may remind some readers of the work of the German writer W. G. Sebald.”

    New York Times
  • “A visceral, intimate, and horrific account of the horrors of the war. This is simply a magnificent book.”

    Historical Novel Society
  • “A masterpiece.”

    Modern Traveler
  • “A masterly book about memory, art, love and war…In a world of novels with overdetermined, linear plot lines—their chapters like so many boxcars on a train—War and Turpentine delivers a blast of narrative fresh air.”

    New York Times Book Review
  • A rich fictionalized memoir. . . . Death, destruction, obligation, duty--Urbain faces them all and yet he still finds joy in life. The Times (UK)
  • Poignantly nuanced . . . readers will thank an exceptional novelist (and a skilled translator). Booklist (Starred Review)
  • Wonderful, full of astonishingly vivid moments of powerful imagery. . . . moving moments of mysterious beauty. . . . Hertmans. . .brilliantly captures the intractable reality of a complex man. Sunday Times (UK)
  • A future classic. . . . 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, with inset essays, meditations, pictures. It seems to be aching to be called ‘Sebaldian,’ and earns the epithet glowingly. . . . In David McKay’s lyrical translation, every detail has the heightened luminosity of poetry. . . . The book has such convincing density of detail, with the quiddities of a particular life so truthfully rendered, that I was reminded of a phrase from Middlemarch: ‘an idea wrought back to the directness of sense, like the solidity of objects.’ Hertmans’ achievement is exactly that. Neel Mukherjee, The Guardian
  • 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.’ Sunday Express (UK)
  • 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. Herald (UK)
  • Using the methods of narrative collage. . . and affectionate detective work—the writer evokes his grandfather's life in full: his impecunious childhood, early work at a relative's smithy and then at a foundry that left his back scarred by red-hot tailings, his asthmatic painter-father's early death, his grotesque experiences in the trenches interspersed with hospital stays during the war. . . . The book is especially eloquent and persuasive about the role that art—especially painting but also music and, by extension, narrative—played in Urbain's life and in the life of the grandson who is his visitant and scribe and portraitist. And Ghent as setting is beautifully portrayed, too. Hertmans provides a richly detailed excavation of a life and a thoughtful exploration of familial memory. Kirkus
  • A multi-award winner in Europe that sold 200,000 copies in the Netherlands and Belgium alone, this broad-canvas work features a Flemish man reconstructing the life of his grandfather. From modest retoucher of church paintings to worker in a dangerous foundry to drafted soldier who married his beloved’s sister, Urbain Martien has seen his life and dreams flattened. For readers of good literature and war stories, too. Library Journal
  • Longlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize
  • An Economist Best Book of 2016
  • A New York Times Top 10 Book of 2016
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About the Author

Stefan Hertmans is an internationally acclaimed Flemish author. For more than twenty years he was a professor at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Ghent, where he wrote novels, poems, essays, and plays. His novel War and Turpentine was awarded the prestigious AKO Literature Prize in 2014.

About the Narrator

Nicholas Guy Smith, an AudioFile Earphones Award–winning narrator, is a highly rated and diverse voice-over actor who has been heard in feature films, television commercials, and video games. He has voiced characters for Disney, Warner Brothers, Universal, and the Cartoon Network.