War and Turpentine
2018 Longlist

War and Turpentine

Translated from the Dutch by David McKay
artwork-image

ABOUT
THE BOOK

Shortly before his death, Stefan Hertmans’ grandfather Urbain Martien gave his grandson a set of notebooks containing the detailed memories of his life. He grew up in poverty around 1900, the son of a struggling church painter who died young, and went to work in an iron foundry at only 13. Afternoons spent with his father at work on a church fresco were Urbain’s heaven; the iron foundry an inferno.

During the First World War, Urbain was on the front line confronting the invading Germans, and ever after he is haunted by events he can never forget. The war ends and he marries his great love, Maria Emelia, but she dies tragically in the 1919 flu epidemic. Urbain mourns her bitterly for the rest of his life but, like the obedient soldier he is, he marries her sister at her parents’ bidding. The rest is not quite silence, but a marriage with a sad secret at its heart, and the consolations found in art and painting. War and Turpentine is the imaginative reconstruction of a damaged life across the tumultuous decades of the twentieth century; a deeply moving portrayal of family, grief, love and war.

ABOUT
THE AUTHOR Stefan
Hertmans

Stefan Hertmans is the prizewinning author of many literary works, including poetry, novels, essays, plays, short stories and a handbook on the history of art. He has taught at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent, at the Sorbonne, and at the Universities of Vienna and Berlin. His first novel to be translated into English, War and Turpentine, was longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize, and was chosen as a book of the year in The Times, Sunday Times, and The Economist, and as one of the ten best books of the year in the New York Times. Photo Credit: Michiel Hendry

Stefan Hertmans is the prizewinning author of many literary works, including poetry, novels, essays, plays, short stories and a handbook on the history of art. He has taught at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent, at the Sorbonne, and at the Universities of Vienna and Berlin. His first novel to be translated into English, War and Turpentine, was longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize, and was chosen as a book of the year in The Times, Sunday Times, and The Economist, and as one of the ten best books of the year in the New York Times. Photo Credit: Michiel Hendry

ABOUT
THE TRANSLATOR David
McKay

David McKay is a literary translator in The Hague, best known for his translations of novels by the Flemish author Stefan Hertmans, including The Ascent, published by Harvill Secker in November. Other recent publications include Charlotte van den Broeck’s Bold Ventures, described in the New York Times as “a small marvel: a monument to human beings continuing to reach for the skies.” He has been shortlisted for various translation prizes and won the Vondel Prize for Hertmans’s War and Turpentine. He will serve as the American Literary Translators Association Dutch-English mentor for the second time in 2023. In recent years, he has translated work by various Dutch and Flemish playwrights, including Freek Mariën, Anna Carlier, Abke Haring and Jibbe Willems. His translation of Mariën’s The Wetsuitman is being premiered in 2022 by The Cherry Arts (Ithaca, NY) and Foreign Affairs (London) and has been published in The Mercurian.

 

David McKay is a literary translator in The Hague, best known for his translations of novels by the Flemish author Stefan Hertmans, including The Ascent, published by Harvill Secker in November. Other recent publications include Charlotte van den Broeck’s Bold Ventures, described in the New York Times as “a small marvel: a monument to human beings continuing to reach for the skies.” He has been shortlisted for various translation prizes and won the Vondel Prize for Hertmans’s War and Turpentine. He will serve as the American Literary Translators Association Dutch-English mentor for the second time in 2023. In recent years, he has translated work by various Dutch and Flemish playwrights, including Freek Mariën, Anna Carlier, Abke Haring and Jibbe Willems. His translation of Mariën’s The Wetsuitman is being premiered in 2022 by The Cherry Arts (Ithaca, NY) and Foreign Affairs (London) and has been published in The Mercurian.

 

NOMINATING LIBRARY COMMENTS

In beautiful prose Hertmans wrote a story about his grandfather’s recollections of the First World War. It’s an exquisite, moving and loving reconstruction of the drama of his grandfather’s life and an evocation of a whole generation of men affected by this war. But it’s more than just a war story. It’s a moving and well-constructed novel that shows us all how we can find dignity in sorrow and pain.

The life of Urbain Martien – artist, soldier, survivor of World War 1 – lies contained in two notebooks he left behind when he died in 1981. His grandson, a writer, retells his grandfather’s story with great imaginative power and vivid detail. This novel – already considered a classic – won the AKO Literatuur Prijs in 2014.

War and Turpentine is the moving story of the author’s grandfather. From his impoverished youth at the end of the 19th century to the horrors of the First World War, the book tells a story of a man obsessed with war, his beloved first wife and painting. Told in beautiful prose, this is a strong portrait of a troubled man, especially the part of his experiences in the war is breathtaking. The photographs in the book make it even more tangible.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Date published
02/09/2013
Country
Belgium
Original Language
Dutch
Publisher
Harvill Secker
Translator
David McKay
Translation
Translated from the Dutch by David McKay

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