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review 2016-08-11 03:57
War & Turpentine
War and Turpentine: A novel - Stefan Hertmans,David H. McKay

War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans is is part history, part biography, and part autobiography all compiled as a novel. It is the portrait of a man, an artist by choice and a soldier by necessity. The descriptive narration conjures up vivid images of time and place. The descriptive narration and the multiple narrators, however, also create distance between reader and character, making it more difficult to engage with the story.


Read my complete review at Memories From Books - War & Turpentine.


Reviewed for the Penguin First to Read program.


Source: www.memoriesfrombooks.com/2016/08/war-turpentine.html
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review 2016-07-17 19:43
War and Turpentine
War and Turpentine: A novel - Stefan Hertmans,David H. McKay

War and Turpentine is separated into three parts: the first about Urbain's childhood and family; the second recounts his experiences during World War I; the third focuses on his life after the war.


The writing is elegant, if a bit too alliterative at times, but quite beautiful are the author's descriptions of his great-grandparents' love and the tenderness with which great-grandmother Celine treats her husband, Franciscus, despite their poverty, cramped quarters, five children, and Franciscus's fragile health. Hertmans presents his grandfather's impoverished childhood in terms that show how the beautiful, the ugly, and the mundane intertwined to create the man Urbain would grow to be. Hertmans captures the great love Urbain had for his mother, Celine, and the tenderness of her love toward both her husband and her son.


Before he was even old enough to shave, Urbain had already seen a great deal of the painful side of life. He was barely a teenager when he witnessed a horrific accident at an iron smith/mechanic's shop, and, as was the custom at the time, nobody talked about what happened; everyone kept to himself while things and people fell apart. Urbain also spent time working in a foundry at the age of thirteen, and the reader can feel the intense heat of liquid metal and see young Urbain's muscles tremble as he struggles to steady the basin of molten iron.


I was also particularly moved by a scene from the Great War, describing animals swimming across a river in a flood during a lull between battles, "fleeing an unimaginable Armageddon . . . fleeing blindly like lemmings." One can only begin to imagine how tempting it must have been to want to flee with them, to swim away to a distant shore, to a place where one can look in any given direction and not see insurmountable death and destruction. Urbain describes war as being "like the wrath of God, minus God." Powerful and poignant.


My only real point of contention with the novel is that I felt the author's presence more than I wanted to. At times, images and sounds flowed over me in cascades; at other times, I was only too aware of the author's presence. Outside of that, I really enjoyed reading War and Turpentine and found the prose both fluid-like and soothing, even when describing some of the darkest moments of Urbain's difficult life.


I received access to the galley for free through the First to Read program, but all opinions are MY OWN.

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text 2016-07-16 17:11
Reading progress update: I've read 98 out of 336 pages.
War and Turpentine: A novel - Stefan Hertmans,David H. McKay

I'm having conflicting feelings about this one. This is going to be a difficult one to review. 

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review 2016-07-13 00:15
Fact or fiction?
War and Turpentine: A novel - Stefan Hertmans,David H. McKay

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.


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