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War and Turpentine
by Stefan Hertmans and David McKay


Overview - Longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2017
A New York Times Top 10 Best Book of the Year
An Economist Best Book of the Year

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.  Read more...


 
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More About War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans; David McKay
 
 
 
Overview
Longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2017
A New York Times Top 10 Best Book of the Year
An Economist Best Book of the Year

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; 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.

(With black-and-white illustrations throughout)

 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9781101874028
  • ISBN-10: 1101874023
  • Publisher: Pantheon Books
  • Publish Date: August 2016
  • Page Count: 304
  • Dimensions: 9.3 x 5.7 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds


Related Categories

Books > Fiction > Family Life
Books > Fiction > Historical - General
Books > Fiction > Literary

 
Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2016-06-27
  • Reviewer: Staff

In this autobiographical novel, Flemish essayist, novelist, poet, and playwright Hertmans draws on his extensive fine arts background in a stirring remembrance of his grandfather Urbain Martien—World War I hero and devoted painter—to create a masterly treatise on the interconnections of life, art, memory, and heartbreaking love. Shortly before his grandfather’s death in 1981, the narrator inherits the notebooks that Martien wrote in the last two decades of his life. “I wasted precious years diligently working on countless other projects and keeping a safe distance from his notebooks: those silent, patient witnesses that enclosed his painstaking, graceful pre-war handwriting like a humble shrine,” Hertmans writes of his reticence to retell his grandfather’s extraordinary life. But the notebooks provide insight into Martien’s many facets, not least his childhood as the son of Franciscus, a talented but poor church painter, his heroism, and a lifetime paying obeisance to the capricious gods of art. In the two bookend sections, Hertmans demonstrates a painter’s eye for the smallest detail, gracefully melding art criticism and philosophy. The book’s middle section focuses on the war. Variously chaotic, horrifying, and hauntingly beautiful, Martien’s war experience ends with his declaration of love for Maria Emilia, a woman from the neighborhood he watched from his bedroom while he convalesced, physically and mentally, from the war that shattered his life. 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. (Aug.)

 
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