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The Ascent

Best Seller
The Ascent by Stefan Hertmans
Hardcover $30.00
Aug 29, 2023 | ISBN 9780593316467

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  • Aug 29, 2023 | ISBN 9780593316467

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“[Hertmans’s] most recent pastiche of fiction, memoir and Sebaldian evidence gathering [is] inspired by the discovery that his former home in Ghent once housed a notorious Nazi collaborator . . . [The Ascent] deftly blends reporting and speculation as he reimagines the lives these rooms once sheltered, laying out the terrible consequences of an ambitious man’s blinkered devotion to the bureaucracy of the Reich.”
The New York Times Book Review

“When Bel­gian author Ste­fan Hert­mans decid­ed to rent a damp old house on the banks of the sludgy Lieveke canal in a run­down neigh­bor­hood of Ghent, he wasn’t think­ing about its pre­vi­ous inhab­i­tants. . . . But many years after he left the three-sto­ry house . . . he learned that, dur­ing World War II, it was occu­pied by Willem Ver­hulst, an SS intel­li­gence offi­cer. . . . Strad­dling the line between non­fic­tion and fic­tion. . . . [Hertmans] presents a grip­ping tale of the house on Dro­gen­hof Street, which con­tains both his own mem­o­ries and the secrets of the SS offi­cer and his family. . . . Using the house as a frame­work, the author pro­vides a vis­cer­al sense of life in the occu­pied city dur­ing the war. . . . Beau­ti­ful­ly trans­lat­ed by David McK­ay. . . . Hertmans’s par­al­lel sto­ries of Verhulst’s treach­ery and his own path to uncov­er­ing the secrets hid­den in the Dro­gen­hof house make for a com­pelling read. . . . the read­er can hard­ly wait to find out what he discovers.”
Jewish Book Council

“A fascinating project of autofiction. . . . Hertmans had already sold his former home in Ghent when he read a memoir by a former occupant that shocked him: before he’d lived there, an SS officer had called the place home. Hertmans uses this jarring revelation . . . to explore the home’s long history and reconsider the meaning of sanctuary.”

“Hertmans turns the spotlight on the Flemish nationalist and Nazi collaborator Willem Verhulst. . . . paint[ing] a brilliant portrait of a deluded and dangerous man. . . . [The Ascent is] a deft blend of history, fiction and autofiction, skillfully translated by David McKay. Hertmans draws on a wealth of sources . . . [and] the photographs scattered throughout the text bring to mind the work of W.G. Sebald. . . . Eerie and atmospheric. . . . In his insightful and expertly crafted book, history that has settled is roused and reckoned with, and it still has the ability to captivate and the power to shock.”
The Wall Street Journal

“Discovering he lived in a house in Ghent formerly owned by a Nazi collaborator, [Hertmans] experienced ‘the powerful pull of an unknown life’ and set out to investigate. Through a series of anecdotes, he tells the story of Willem Verhulst. . . . [His] impressionistic prose is deeply evocative, and the novel reads like a fascinating conversation, drawing on the storyteller’s absorption with his subject matter and intimate knowledge of the characters involved.”

“‘In the first year of the new millennium . . . I learned that for twenty years I had lived in the house of a former SS man.’ So begins Flemish author Hertmans’ coolly intriguing re-creation of the life and circumstances of Willem Verhulst. . . . As much a story of the family and the setting as of the horrible . . . figure at its center, the book . . . delivers a haunting, detailed record of people, place and atmosphere.”
Kirkus Reviews

“A thoughtful and unflinching narrative in which [Hertmans] imagines the life of his Ghent home’s previous owner. . . . Recreating the lives of the Verhulst family during the grisly period of Nazi occupation from 1940 to 1945 and beyond, Hertmans chronicles how Willem becomes a high-ranking Nazi informant, traces his exploits as a Flemish nationalist rabble rouser after WWII, and explores his romantic attachments. . . . [he] adds nuance by drawing on interviews with Verhulst’s daughters Letta and Suzanne . . . and the memoirs of Verhulst’s son, Adriaan, who was Hertmans’s history professor in the 1970s. . . . along with excerpts from various letters and journals, [which] convey the depth of the author’s immersion. In Hertmans’s hands, the dusty rooms of history come alive.”
Publishers Weekly

“A powerful and humane reminder that the horrors of the past century are inexhaustibly fascinating and reverberate today.”
The Observer (UK)

“Hertmans’s acute scrutiny of the grim tale he has unearthed brings a monster and his milieu into riveting focus. Alive with the same investigative verve, psychological perception and narrative virtuosity as its two acclaimed predecessors, The Ascent is a compelling addition.”
The Sunday Times (UK)
“A self-conscious blend of archival legwork and artistic licence. . . . grimly compelling.”
Mail on Sunday (UK)
“Prepare to descend. Based on years of research and augmented with personal reflections and fictional episodes . . . the book tells the true story of Willem Verhulst, a Flemish nationalist from Ghent. . . . Hertmans brilliantly describes and imagines scenes. . . . memorable.”
The Daily Telegraph (UK)

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