22 Oct '13

'Literature lends history a voice'

2025
door RK
It took the author Stefan Hertmans 30 years before he dared to open the notebooks containing his grandfather's memoires. Three years later and his grandfather has become a fictional character and the memoires the book Oorlog en terpentijn (War and turpentine).

It took the author Stefan Hertmans 30 years before he dared to open the notebooks containing his grandfather's memoires. Three years later and his grandfather has become a fictional character and the memoires a book. Oorlog en terpentijn (War and turpentine) tells the story of how a generation of young men grew up in the early years of Flanders' industrialisation, at the start of the 20th century, and how they ended up in 1914 bogged down in the mud of a terrifyingly hopeless war. Two weeks after being published, the book is already in its fourth impression and the reactions are all enthusiastic. 'I have apparently touched a deep nerve in the Flemish psyche', says the author. Reading between the lines of the book, you can hear the echoes of thousands of other stories. 'The kinds of stories that are hidden behind the 60.000 names on the Menin Gate in Ypres. Historians are unable to tell these individual stories. 18.000 young men died on 17 June, they tell us. What they fail to say is that on that very same day 18.000 stories came to end. And on that very same day 18.000 mothers started to mourn.' (RK, nov 2013)