War and Turpentine by Stefan HertmansShortly before his death in 1981, Stefan Hertmans grandfather gave him a couple of filled exercise books. Stories he’d heard as a child had led Hertmans to suspect that their contents might be disturbing, and for years he didn’t dare to open them.
When he finally did, he discovered unexpected secrets. His grandfather’s life was marked by years of childhood poverty in late-nineteenth-century Belgium, by horrific experiences on the frontlines during the First World War and by the loss of the young love of his life. He sublimated his grief in the silence of painting.
Drawing on these diary entries, his childhood memories and the stories told within Urbain’s paintings, Hertmans has produced a poetic novelisation of his grandfather’s story, brought to life with great imaginative power and vivid detail.
War and Turpentine is an enthralling search for a life that coincided with the tragedy of a century—and a posthumous, almost mythical attempt to give that life a voice at last.
War and Turpentine
This is an important work about the first World War largely because of the material from which it draws. Young people lay wreaths during a service to mark the th anniversary of the start of the battle of the Somme at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Memorial on July 1st, in Thiepval, France. Urbain Martien, grew up in poverty in Ghent in Belgium , in a late 19th century world which was about to disappear. His father was a painter of frescoes, a fragile dreamer who lived the life of a Renaissance artist and remained almost oblivious to the hardship he and his family endured. At 13 young Urbain was working in an iron foundry; it was tough, soul destroying work.
In The Great War and Modern Memory , literary scholar and critic Paul Fussell discusses how the collective experience and horrors of the First World War gave way to a disillusioned modern sensibility. The Romantic period was over. How does this connect to War and Turpentine? Their military ethics were based on the virtues of courage, self-discipline, honor, the love of the daily march, respect for nature and their fellow men, honesty, and the willingness to fight man to man. How is this book particularly about the First World War and the time directly before and after, and how are the themes and stories universal? Discuss how the story of Urbain unfolds. The novel is not told in typical chronological order and it shifts between various first-person and third-person narratives.
U rbain Martien was born in to a poor, working-class family in Ghent. His father, Franciscus, was a lowly painter of church murals and died of tuberculosis in his early 40s, but not before he had passed on a passion for painting to his son. Urbain worked in an iron foundry as a boy before going to military school for four years; shortly after he graduated, the first world war arrived, sweeping away the old order of Europe like a giant hand. Urbain served on the frontline, miraculously surviving it. Not only was the world he returned to after the end of the war utterly transformed, but he was, too. Nearly 50 years after his experiences, in , five years after the death of his wife, Gabrielle, he started to write about them. His recollections filled up more than pages in three notebooks, which he bequeathed to his grandson Stefan Hertmans, one of the great living Flemish poets.
Story about the life of author's grandfather Urbain Martien and his particioation in the First World War. Urbain Martien was still a young man when the First World War ended. He had only just finished his studies at the military academy and begun work at a factory, spending his spare time busy painting.
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Hertmans says he based it on the notebooks his grandfather gave him in It has been translated in twenty languages so far. The narrator opens with a framing device, purporting to draw upon recollections in notebooks left him by the grandfather. In an interview, Hertmans asserted that the novel indeed captures the memories of his own grandfather as recorded in a pair of notebooks decades after the war. His father, Franciscus Martien, worked as a fresco painter for parish churches in the Low Countries and finally, in England.
For years, Hertmans was too afraid to open them — until he finally did and laid bare some unexpected secrets. The life of his grandfather turned out to be marked by his impoverished childhood in late nineteenth-century Ghent, by horrible experiences as a front soldier during the First World War and by his great love who died young; the rest of his life he spent turning his grief into silent paintings. In an attempt to fathom that life, Hertmans wrote down his memories of his grandfather. He quotes from his diaries and looks at his paintings. Hertmans tells the story with an imagination that only great writers possess, and does it in a form that leaves an indelible impression. This novel is a quest for meaning that is both personal and collective, specific and universal.