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Extended Audio Sample War and Turpentine: A novel, 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:
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A vivid, masterly novel about a Flemish man who reconstructs his grandfather’s story—his hopes, loves, and art, all disrupted by the First World War—from the unflinching notebooks he filled with pieces of his life.

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. His grandson, a writer, retells his story, the notebooks giving him the impetus to imagine his way into the locked chambers of Urbain’s memory. He vividly 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; 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 story, Urbain’s 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

  • An exceptionally rich and rewarding piece of writing. It is hard to imagine a wiser and more important book at this point of time. Stavanger Aftenblad
  • A gem of a novel, full of history, full of life, full of wisdom. Nederlands Dagblad
  • Recalls the great W. G. Sebald. Espresso
  • “Poignantly nuanced . . . readers will thank an exceptional novelist (and a skilled translator).”

    Booklist (Starred Review)

  • Winner of the AKO Literature Prize
    Winner of the Culture Prize of the Flemish Community 2014
    Winner of the INKTAAP Prize
    Shortlisted for the Golden Owl in Belgium
    Shortlisted for the Libris Literature Prize 2014 in the Netherlands
    Shortlisted for the Premio Strega Europe in Italy
  • Potent. . . . Harrowing. . . . Built to last. . . . War and Turpentine is billed as a novel, but that's hardly the word for it. It's 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. Dwight Garner, The New York Times
  • “A masterly book about memory, art, love and war. . . . Not since reading W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn have I been so taken with a demonstration of the storytelling confluence of fiction and nonfiction. . . .  War and Turpentine affords the sensory pleasures of a good novel while also conveying the restlessness of memoir through its probing, uncertain narrator, who raids the family pantry in search of existential meaning. . . . One of the triumphs of War and Turpentine is that the style of delivery is perfectly suited to its central concerns—the flux of memory and the unspooling of a human life. . . . In a world of novels with overdetermined, linear plotlines—their chapters like so many boxcars on a train—War and Turpentine delivers a blast of narrative fresh air. The 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)
  • 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
  • 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)
  • 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)
  • With War and Turpentine, Stefan Hertmans has written one of the most moving books of the year. De Standaard
  • War and Turpentine is a masterfully written story of a dramatic life, a piece of Ghent family history, and a tribute to Hertmans’ mysterious grandfather. . . . Beautiful. NRC Handelsblad
  • A masterpiece. Humo
  • An unvarnished and moving tribute to [Hertmans’] grandfather. De Groene Amsterdammer
  • A wide domestic fresco which retraces Flanders' spiritual geography, straddling between two worlds: the world of honor and innocence and the world of the horrors of war. Alias
  • War and Turpentine is literature at its best: giving voice to the voiceless. Dagblad De Limburger
  • A loving memorial. Hertmans paints in words, each one carefully weighed, with sublime composition and stylistic ingenuity. Noordhollands Dagblad
  • A successful mix of memoir and fiction. Il Manifesto
  • 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
  • “A masterly book about memory, art, love and war. . . . Not since reading W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn have I been so taken with a demonstration of the storytelling confluence of fiction and nonfiction. . . . War and Turpentine affords the sensory pleasures of a good novel while also conveying the restlessness of memoir through its probing, uncertain narrator, who raids the family pantry in search of existential meaning. . . . I experienced Hermans’s book in the crosscurrents of rendered image, historical fact and narrative design, aware that some aspects of it were being curated and invented but feeling incapable of assessing the relative proportions. I was powerless to resist their combined spell. . . . Hertmans is a Belgian novelist, poet and essayist who writes in Dutch, and in War and Turpentine he has found a way to meld the various strands of his professional prowess into a unified whole. David McKay, meanwhile, provides an artful translation of the book into English. . . . the pictures rush at the reader like spectral images of a lost world, a world that’s being constructed for us in the act of telling, as the narrator provides in conjures. . . . One of the triumphs of War and Turpentine is that the style of delivery is perfectly suited to its central concerns—the flux of memory and the unspooling of a human life. . . . In a world of novels with overdetermined, linear plotlines—their chapters like so many boxcars on a train—War and Turpentine delivers a blast of narrative fresh air. The New York Times Book Review

  • Potent. . . . Harrowing. . . . Built to last. . . . War and Turpentine is billed as a novel, but that's hardly the word for it. It's 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. Dwight Garner, The New York Times

    “A masterly book about memory, art, love and war. . . . Not since reading W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn have I been so taken with a demonstration of the storytelling confluence of fiction and nonfiction. . . .  War and Turpentine affords the sensory pleasures of a good novel while also conveying the restlessness of memoir through its probing, uncertain narrator, who raids the family pantry in search of existential meaning. . . . One of the triumphs of War and Turpentine is that the style of delivery is perfectly suited to its central concerns—the flux of memory and the unspooling of a human life. . . . In a world of novels with overdetermined, linear plotlines—their chapters like so many boxcars on a train—War and Turpentine delivers a blast of narrative fresh air.

  • A New York Times Editor’s Choice
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