A New York Times Top 10 Best Book of the YearAn 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)
Hertmans is a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts, Ghent, Belgium. He has published novels, short stories, plays, collections of poetry, and essays on literature and philosophy.
Certified Dutch-English translator, Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.