Stefan Hertmans

© Michiel Hendryckx
Frankfurter Buchmesse
Guest of Honour 2016

Stefan Hertmans

1951, Ghent.
Multi-talented. Meticulous. Acclaimed. Former jazz musician.

Hertmans has published novels, short story collections, essays, plays and a dozen or so anthologies of poems. In 1994 he produced Muziek voor de overtocht [Music For the Crossing], a collection of poems for which he obtained the Vlaamse Gemeenschap voor Poëzie, a Flemish award for poetry, allocated once every three years. His novel, Naar Merelbeke [To Merelbeke] (1994) was nominated for the Libris Literature Prize. And for War and Turpentine (2015) he was again nominated for this prestigious award, and he won the AKO Literature Prize, de Gouden Boekenuil (Readers’ jury prize) and the Prijs van de Vlaamse Gemeenschap voor Letteren, a Flemish prose award. This widely reviewed bestseller has now been translated into German, Swedish and Polish and is soon to appear in Japanese, English and Croatian. The Danish writer Jens Christian Grøndahl has described War and Turpentine as a ‘European masterwork of a calibre no one still thought possible’.


  Lesung Stefan Hertmans   Translations   Stefan Hertmans   Auteurslezingen   De Bezige Bij   Hanser   Hanser Berlin

Recently translated into German

War and Turpentine
Translated by Ira Wilhelm
Hanser, 2014
Original title: Oorlog en terpentijn (De Bezige Bij, 2013)

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.
War and Turpentine is a masterfully written account of a dramatic life, a piece of Ghent family history and a beautiful tribute to Hertmans’ grandfather, who remained mysterious for so long. It’s also probably the best of the books that will be published over the coming five years about the generation of the Great War.

De Tijd

A book that seems to be aching to be called “Sebaldian” and earns the epithet glowlingly. War and Turpentine has all the markings of a future classic.

The Guardian

A rich fictionalised memoir. (…) Death, destruction, obligation, duty… Urbain faces them all and yet he still finds joys in life.