An international best seller: 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.
"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 rich fictionalized memoir.... Death, destruction, obligation, duty - Urbain faces them all and yet he still finds joy in life." (The Times [London])
"Poignantly nuanced...readers will thank an exceptional novelist (and a skilled translator)." (Booklist )
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Une Beauté Douloureux en Flandres
- W Perry Hall