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Bailed a fifth of the way in This is not really a novel at all it s a rather dry memoir with sections that go on and on that are like essayistic musings on Belgian history and culture with little about the main characters at all What little there was of an actual story was moderately interesting, about a grandfather who d been a painter of sorts What I couldn t endure was the feeling of watching paint dry while reading this. The author, Stefan Hertmans, is a well known Flemish poet Apparently there is some debate over how much of his book, War and Turpentine , is fictional and how much is true Indeed, the main character in the book, Urbain Martien, is the author s grandson and he did bequeath his memoirs to him, which took Hertmans 30 years before reading When questioned, the author has said that he only lightly edited his grandfather s memoir And yet it isn t advertised as a memoir.The book starts out with Turpentine his grandfather s young days as a poor European Part of the section is told by Hertmans as recollections of his grandfather and part is told by his grandfather and includes his recollections of his own father I enjoyed this section the most as it dealt with the art produced by Urbain and his father It beautifully portrays the life of the poor a century ago I especially enjoyed the photos of the artwork referenced and the personal photos contained throughout the book There are also essays and mediations contained in this section.Then there is a long section, the war section, told by Urbain This is probably the best written part of the book and I tend to think this may have been the bulk of the grandfather s writings, though it s written with the heart of a poet, which Hertmans is It s a horrific accounting of Urbain s experiences in the war What struck me most about this section were the parts when Urbain would recount what he was seeing in front of him and compare it to his beautiful memories of the country, lighting up the stark difference There were parts that were difficult to read due to their nature.The book then goes back to Turpentine and tells of Urbain s life after the war and his marriage to Gabrielle This section has a sad story to tell.As well as this book is written and the beautiful poetical prose throughout, I just never really seemed to connect with the characters In the Turpentine sections, the author jumps around quite a bit between the author, his grandfather and his great grandfather and would sometimes lose me There were many relatives that I couldn t keep straight I think if I had read it as a memoir, it would have given me a different perspective than reading it as fictional based on fact I found it a bit disconcerting not knowing what was true and what wasn t.This book was given to me by the publisher through First to Read in return for an honest review. @DOWNLOAD PDF Ó Oorlog en terpentijn í 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 , The Son Of A Struggling Church Painter Who Died Young, And Went To Work In An Iron Foundry At Only Afternoons Spent With His Father At Work On A Church Fresco Were Urbain S Heaven The Iron Foundry An InfernoDuring 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 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 Vreemd genoeg vond ik het tweede hoofdstuk, de kern van dit boek over de Eerste Wereldoorlog, het minst interessante van de drie misschien heb ik daarvoor al wat te veel gelezen over de oorlog Gelukkig maken de meer persoonlijke eerste en derde hoofdstukken dat ruimschoots goed Aangezien ik zelf uit het Gentse afkomstig ben, moet ik toegeven dat ik wel wat een zwak voor de beschrijving van het Gent van toen heb.Prachtig geschreven boek, en vooral een zeer aangrijpend eerbetoon van de schrijver aan zijn grootvader. I know many of us have family members who went to war and lost parts of themselves there, leaving us only with letters or journals to try to piece those years together While sections of the book are disjointed and didn t flow well, overall it was an interesting touching tribute to the author grandfather and his great grandparents The WW1 section written in the first person was vivid and powerful Urbain s relationships with his parents and the role of art music in their lives was also beautifully written I think this is a book I will remember. In my most distant memory of my grandfather, he is on the beach at Ostend What he sees is something like a James Ensor painting set in motion, although he despises true work of that Ostend blasphemer with the English name Ensor is a dauber , and along with toss pot and riff raff , dauber is the worst accusation he can make They re all daubers today painters they ve completely lost touch with the classical tradition, the subtle, novel craft of the old masters They muddle along with no respect for the laws of anatomy, don t even know how to glaze, never mix their own paint, use turpentine like water, and are ignorant of the secrets of grinding your own pigments, of fine linseed oil and the blowing of siccatives no wonder there are no great painters.An Ensor painting of Ostend beach Book 9 from 13 on the 2017 Man Booker International, and while certainly not the worst book the biggest disappointment so far, at least versus my high expectations of it based on reviews I had read and also its status as the only book also on the 2017 Best Translated Book Award shortlist.War and Turpentine is based on the real life story of Hertmans grandfather, Urbain Martien, a retired veteran from World War 1 Indeed it is arguable whether this is a fictional novel at all, since it is is reconstructed biography.Martien was born in 1891 into relative poverty, as his father Franciscus worked as a poorly remunerated painter and restorer of church murals Urbain completed 4 years of military training before WW1 and served in the Belgian army with distinction during the war, surviving three serious injuries Franciscus had no desire to pass his vocation on to his son, but he did inherit his father s love of and skills in painting.Urbain wrote his life story, at least up till the end of the war, in three notebooks that he bequeathed to his grandson Stefan, who was at a loss what to do with them, until the approach of 2014 made him realise the hundredth anniversary of the cataclysm would release a flood of books a new barrage alongside the almost unscaleable mountain of existing historical material, books as innumerable as the sandbags on the Yser front, thoroughly documented, historically accurate, made up novels and stories while I held the privilege of his memoirs but was too scared to open them, didn t dare to open the first page, in the knowledge that this story would be a farewell to a piece of my childhood this story, which, if I didn t hurry, would be published just when readers turned away with a yawn from yet another book on the First World War.Hertmans also discovered some further family secrets in his grandfather s papers, during this time, the clues to which were buried in some of his grandfather s paintings, such as a reproduction of Velazquez s Rokeby Venus, but with a different face on the reclining nude, as well as some of his grandfather s anecdotes where memories of the War seemed to bleed into his tales of famous geniuses of the Romantic period The things he wished to forget kept coming back, in shards of stories or absurd details, and whether heaven or hell was the subject, shards and details like these were the puzzle pieces I had to fit together before I could begin to understand what had gone on inside him all his life the battle between the transcendent, which he yearned for, and the memory of death and destruction, which held him in its clutches.Hertmans explains his approach in this radio interview result was this book, in three sections The first explaining Hertman s quest and providing an imaginative reconstruction of his grandfather s family history and pre life war based on the notebooks the second an account of Urbain s first world war written in the first person presumably lifted mostly direct from the notebooks, with authorial editing and a third section that wraps up the story, with the first and third sections illustrated with family photos, scenes from the places described and paintings both famous and, increasingly, Urbain s own.This is a very creative and literary approach to the subject matter So why my disappointment Ultimately Hertmans been hoist by his own epigraphs If you are going to write a novel whose first section is ostensibly fiction, but with elements of fact, history and travelogue, all illustrated with occasional black and white photos, then if you quote W.G Sebald you are setting yourself a high standard, and it is one of which Hertmans falls well short.Du an arotar s Panorama, which was also eligible for the 2017 MBI did the whole Sebald tribute thing, including evocative descriptions of Belgium, so much better.And if your second section is a detailed personal account of the 1st world war, and you reference Erich Maria Remarque, you have the same issue The here was relatively mundane albeit the terrible events described need no embellishment And while the story is obviously true, it did still seem a tad Hollywood, with Urbain surviving miraculously unscathed despite heroically flinging himself into dangerous situations, with all about him falling dead There is also an interesting undercurrent of Walloon Flemish tension is this part, with the French speaking officers disdaining the Flemish NCOs, but this waried a little with repetition, particularly Urbain s repeated insistence that his name is pronounced the Flemish way closer to Maarten, not Marshen which even forms the last line of the book as an admonition to St Peter at Heaven s gates.It s a cheap shot I know but when Urbain s account acknowledged my story is growing monotonous, just as the war grew monotonous, death grew monotonous, our hatred of the Huns monotonous, just as life itself grew monotonous and finally began to turn our stomachs, I couldn t help but agree.To be fair, the 3rd section, which pieces together some of the clues and provides some interesting revelations, explaining details of my own world that never offered up their historical secrets until I read his memoirs from the 1st section But even here, there was too much sentimentality for my taste ultimately family biography tends to be of disproportionate interest to those in the family.Ultimately, I realise I have been far too harsh on this book I would actually be surprised if the judges don t put it through to the MBI and BTBA shortlists But it wasn t for me. Stefan Hertmans deelt in dit boek het complete levensverhaal, een portret in woorden van zijn grootvader Zijn grootvader, zijn echte grootvader, die de eerste wereldoorlog meegemaakt heeft en die die vier verschrikkelijke jaren van zijn leven had neergeschreven voor hij stierf Oorlog en terpentijn bevat dat bewerkte verhaal, voorafgegaan door een inleiding over het hoe en waarom van zijn boek en de armoedige jeugd van zijn grootvader, gevolgd door wat er na 1918 gebeurde met zijn grootvader Er volgt ook nog een deel waarin Stefan reist naar de Westhoek, naar de plaatsen waar de loopgraven waren waar zijn grootvader zo veel uren doorbracht Ik blijf met ongeveer hetzelfde gevoel achter als bij Sprakeloos van Tom Lanoye en Tonio van A.F.Th van der Heijden Enerzijds vond ik de inleiding overbodig en absoluut veel te langdradig Stefan Hertmans schrijft waarom hij de schrijfsels van zijn grootvader wilde delen, waarom hij eraan getwijfeld heeft, hoe en waarom hij er zich toch uiteindelijk toe bewogen heeft om het te doen Die hele, wat ik noem, inleiding omvat vijftig procent van het boek, waarbij ik vaak dacht komaan zeg, begin er nu eindelijk eens aan Anderzijds vind ik het, net omdat het geen fictie is, heel moeilijk om dit boek te beoordelen Ik bedoel, die man heeft echt bestaan, dit boek werd geschreven door zijn kleinzoon toen ook al vijftigplusser om het verhaal van zijn grootvader te delen, wie ben ik om dit stukje familiegeschiedenis te beoordelen Het voelt een beetje alsof ik die grootvader, die zo al een miserabel leven heeft gehad, oneer aandoe als ik zeg dat ik dit portret niet zo n meesterwerk vond.Maar ik zeg het toch ik vond dit geen meesterwerk Ik hield van de schrijfstijl, maar ik heb er even aan moeten wennen Stefan Hertmans leek me door zijn taalgebruik en schrijfstijl het soort persoon waarmee ik nooit overeen zou komen snobistisch, afkomstig uit de Gentse bourgeoisie, een beetje uit de hoogte Maar na een tijd kon ik dat beeld dat ik gecre erd had terug op de achtergrond schuiven en zonder negatief beeld van de auteur genieten van de meeste van zijn zinnen Het is een en al drama, dit boek Het leven van Hertmans grootvader is alles behalve benijdenswaardig En toch werd ik nooit meegesleept, ontroerd of aangegrepen Ik vond het soms zelfs wat stuntelig overkomen De uitgebreide stukken over zijn schilderkunst wilde ik het liefste overslaan omdat de inhoud mij niet interesseerde, maar ik las ze wel omdat ze mooi geschreven waren Van sommige stukken begreep ik de toegevoegde waarde dan weer niet Kort ik begrijp maar half waarom het zo veel lof ontving de taal, over het algemeen en ben dan ook ietwat teleurgesteld Ik heb al veel betere boeken gelezen en ik zal het boek wellicht ook niet te snel aanraden aan anderen. The battle between the transcendent and the memory of death and destruction is eloquently shared through the life of Urbain Martien, the author s grandfather, in War and Turpentine, a book called a future classic by the Guardian.Thirty years after inheriting his grandfather s papers Stefan Hertmans finally read the memoirs Urbain s early life in poverty drove him into the Ghent steel mills as a teenager Then came the sudden epiphany that he, like his father who restored church murals, must be an artist Urbain joins the Flemish Military Academy and is called up to service and into the horror of The Great War How far I have strayed from what I once hoped to become Germany wanted a quick route to Paris, and neutral Belgium was in the way When Belgium resisted, the German army invaded, murdering whole villages The Rape of Belgium left 6,000 civilians dead, 1.5 million refugees, and 120,000 civilians used as forced labor The military lost 100,000 or dead.Hertmans retelling of his grandfather s story is in three sections the author s personal memories and his grandfather s early life the brutal war years the post war years as Urbain cobbles together a life The war section, for me, was most powerful with its vivid descriptions of death and suffering, the piles of human waste in the trenches, Urbain s honorable bravery and multiple injuries, the absurd carnage of human lives We re all cannon fodder together And yet there are moments when Urbain sees nature s beauty, the artist s eye still seeking out the inspiration of color and form and association.After the war Urbain cobbles together a life love, loss, and loneliness the frailty of the body and the accomplishment of one great original painting What mattered most to him was something he could not share with other So he painted trees, clouds, peacocks, the Ostend beach, a poultry yard, still lifes on half cleared tables an immense, silent, devoted labour of grief, to put the world s weeping to rest in the most everyday things he never painted a single war scene The novel is an international best seller I received a free ebook through Penguin First to Read in exchange for a fair and unbiased review. Non chronological story set for the most part in Ghent, Belgium, and jumping to selected periods between the birth of the narrator s grandfather in the late 1890s up to the recent past The unnamed narrator loves his grandfather, whose impoverished childhood and time in the trenches of World War 1 have marked his 90 years on earth irrevocably A painter, he took his grandson, with whom he was close, everywhere The novel reminds me in the early going of Thomas Bernhard s phenomenal Gathering Evidence Bernhard s grandfather was also a big influence on his world view Like it, War and Turpentine is beautifully written, though the tone is gentler and broadly observant of the fleeting world, whereas Bernhart s memoir is a collection of grievances against all the fools he s suffered The two points of view couldn t be dissimilar, yet both have at their core this adoration of a beloved grandfather.As a child the narrator s grandfather had the good fortune to watch his own father the great grandfather at work in his profession as a painter of Church murals Naturally, the colors he used were highly toxic This was a time before safety regulations in the same Belgium that created a living hell in Congo Naturally, the painter father s health suffers Later, as a very young man, hardly out of his teens, the grandfather works in horrendous industrial conditions himself In an iron foundry without winches, he pours molten iron from a crucible he holds in his hands Hideous accidents are commonplace Hertman s writing runs along a pleasant median between summary and passages of extraordinarily vivid detail He uses photos of things he mentions in the text in a fashion reminiscent of W.G Sebald See The Rings of Saturn, The Emigrants, Austerlitz, etc But somehow the practice seems less essential here Perhaps it is just a matter of tone I have to think about the matter.Then we arrive in August 1914 The Germans have invaded Belgium Urbain, the beloved grandfather, along with his fellow soldiers, are fantastically outgunned The pounding of the gargantuan German howitzer Big Bertha feels like an earthquake underfoot Everywhere they go, they march, and their destinations are invariably littered with the dead and the dying for there are no medical corpsmen Logistical supply, too, is almost nonexistent Urbain and his soldiers he s in charge of a squad by this time are starving They re dropping like flies Some men are so thirsty that they drink from a canal which has dead bodies in it they end up with dysentery Within a week the Brussels army is reduced to half its former size The novel until now has been deliciously rich, spilling over with vivid imagery, descriptions of architecture, town markets, neighborhoods, strange people, mother s cooking, poverty, the harsh labor of primitive industry, the work of the great grandfather s mural painting Then in Part 2 we are in the middle of a rather commonplace war story The fact that it s action packed and harrowing in my view does not make up for the cliches of the genre which begin to appear All the novelty of this part lies in its setting Brussels which closely follows the course of the actual war there But the bright freshness of Part 1 is conspicuous in its absence The narrator is now entirely Urbain, who we ve only heard speak previously through letters or other writings The grandson has stepped aside The artifice of the fiction, to my mind, becomes apparent The playful non chronological approach is abandoned for linear storytelling This is Hertman s little structural risk Most readers will no doubt follow him enthusiastically Late in Part 2 and spilling over into Part 3 is the tale of Urbain, just back from the war, and his newfound love for a neighborhood beauty This relationship compasses the final tragedy of his life, which truly is a vale of tears most stoically borne Quite moving and warmly recommend. A War Fresco in a Fractured Frame War and Turpentine is the author s ostensible attempt to write a life of his grandfather, a Belgian soldier in the First World War and an amateur painter all his life, tossed back and forth between the soldier he had to be and the artist he d wished to become emphasis mine But Stefan Hertmans never succeeds in defining that and connecting the two In round numbers, we have Turpentine 150 pages , then War 100 , then Turpentine again 50 Though intermittently interesting, and even approaching excellence in its wartime section, the result never quite coheres as a single book.The War section is certainly the best thing in it It is presented as the first person account of Urbain Martien, a Flemish ironworker and part time painter , who was called up in 1914 and served to the bitter end Having been to military school, he enters as a corporal his abilities will earn him many medals and promotion to Sergeant Major His account is unusual for three reasons it deals with the early days when operations were confusingly fluid and the armies had not yet dug into their trenches even in the middle years of the war, it focuses on the less well known Yser Front, between Belgium and the sea and it details the pervasive racism in the Belgian army, where French speaking officers discriminate against those they see as mere Flemish peasants Martien, for instance, is continually protesting against his name being pronounced in the French way, as Marshen, rather than the Dutch Mar teen I can think of only one other novel that shows the war from this perspective Erwin Mortier s While the Gods Were Sleeping, no stronger than this in its war scenes, but a successful novel overall.For here is the question I have about the War section whose writing is it Unlike the two framing sections, it is told in a single voice, that of Urbain Martien himself But, at least in the smooth translation by David McKay, it reads as something far polished than you would expect from the working class soldier as Hertmans presents him Had he been creating a fictional character, fine but everything else he tells us about his grandfather seems real, even down to the grainy photographs in the framing sections If the is a novel, then where is the fiction I assume that this central part is his grandfather s memoir, presumably edited by the author but it is impossible to know how much Light polishing only, or wholesale rewriting What I think has happened is that Hertmans came upon some materials left by his grandfather but struggled to know how best to frame them I have had a similar problem with my own father, also a WW1 veteran, and have repeatedly failed to find the best way to examine his story and the mysteries he left behind Hertmans solution was to lead into it with a long account of his grandfather s childhood, including the life of his great grandfather as well, a professional church painter Then after the war memoir, he tells of his grandfather s later life, his great love, his marriage, and declining mental health, illustrated by several of the subjects he painted or copied Contemporary interludes show Hertmans himself hunting around attics or visiting old sites now lost or built over I thought of W G Sebald especially in the use of photographs, or Geoff Dyer s visits to WW1 battlefields in The Missing of the Somme. But I wondered at times whom he is really trying to understand his grandfather or himself Certainly, there are the elements of a story here But Hertmans fails, I think, to connect the painter to the soldier in any meaningful way And the constant ambiguity of genre between family history, enhanced memoir, and outright fiction bothered me throughout I say ostensible, for there is always the possibility that the author has made a lot of this up, even to the extent of inventing a fictitious family tree Which would give the book interesting metafictional qualities, if so But it still needs greater internal unity to justify that conceit.