Translated by David McKay
The dazzling new novel by the author of the modern classic War and Turpentine
In the summer of 1979, Stefan Hertmans fell in love with a dilapidated house in Ghent. He rescued it from decay and it became his peaceful sanctuary. Decades on, he learns that a bust of Hitler once sat on the mantelpiece, and a war criminal and his family relaxed in its rooms.
This shocking discovery sends Hertmans to the archives, where he uncovers the secrets of the house and the atrocities committed by its former owner Willem Verhulst. Drawing on the historical record and interviews with Verhulst’s family, Hertmans reimagines the life of a weak, narcissistic man who climbed the ranks of the SS. Hertmans also uncovers the marital drama that took place in the house: Verhulst’s commitment to the SS was at odds with the outlook of his wife, a deeply religious pacifist.
The Ascent is an immersive tale of war, family and individual fate, in which Hertmans demonstrates his mastery at spinning a personal story into an epic narrative.
‘A powerful and humane reminder that the horrors of the past century are inexhaustibly fascinating and reverberate today.’
‘Hertmans brilliantly describes and imagines scenes in the house…There are memorable novelistic flourishes throughout the book as he imagines family life in the home that became his own.’
‘Riveting…Alive with the same investigative verve, psychological perception and narrative virtuosity as its two acclaimed predecessors, The Ascent is a compelling addition to them.’
‘Stefan Hertmans…was handed the sort of gift novelists dream of when he discovered his house in Ghent was once occupied by Willem Verhulst…It’s a territory ripe for writerly investigation, and Hertmans sets about excavating it with the same interest in memory and history as the late great author W. G. Sebald.’
‘Haunting and authentic…A sharp meditation on war and the nature of evil.’
‘A very political project about the role of history in the present…confront[ing] a whole national story and mak[ing] sense of it.’
‘The writing is sparkling, and the story a strong one.’
‘Anyone who has ever wondered about the secrets contained in an old house is sure to enjoy this one.’