In the first year of the new millennium, a book came into my hands from which I learned that for twenty years I had lived in the house of a former SS man.
The dazzling new novel by Stefan Hertmans, author of the modern classic War and Turpentine.
'A powerful and humane reminder that the horrors of the past century are inexhaustibly fascinating and reverberate today.' Observer
In 1979, Stefan Hertmans fell in love with a beautiful dilapidated old house in Ghent in Belgium, which he lovingly rescued from decay, as it became his peaceful sanctuary. Now, all these years later, he learns that a bust of Hitler once sat on the mantelpiece, and a war criminal relaxed in its rooms with his family.
This shocking discovery sends Hertmans off to the archives and to interview next of kin, to uncover the secrets of the house and reimagine this man's life and expose the atrocities he's responsible for. We see Willem Verhulst as a weak, narcissistic man who climbed high in the ranks of the SS; a fascinating and chilling case study for the cruel and perverse mentality of the Nazis.
A story of war, family, and individual fate, The Ascent portrays the deep tragedy of Flemish collaboration during World War Two. Hertmans masterfully brings history and the house to life, as he appears in the novel as a trusted guide, and imagines individual lives to tell the greater European story.
Translated from the Dutch by David McKay
Praise for War and Turpentine
'All the marking of a future classic.' Neel Mukherjee, Guardian
'Staggering richness of language. Mesmerising from page one'. Simon Schama
'Masterpiece, an accolade often casually bestowed, really does describe this magnificent book.' Sunday Times, Book of the Year
'A masterly book.' New York Times, 10 Best Books of the Year