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“It was all so long ago, a century ago,” writes Stefan Hertmans in the closing pages of War and Turpentine, “I am walking here with his DNA in my body, lonelier than alone and too late for it all.”
This should not be misconstrued as an admission of failure. His book is successful at a number of levels: a touching tribute to a grandfather, a subtle sketch of a bygone era, a modern story laden with irony and self-reflection.
It is an anniversary of sorts: 102 years ago, on 10 September 1914, my great-grandfather, Aloïs Delcon, was killed in his pub in Haacht (Belgium) by marauding German troops. His 16-year-old son fled the scene in a hail of gunfire and collapsed in an asparagus field with a shoulder wound.
In Fate and Asparagus (Kindle version) I tell the story of that encounter and the events that ensued and cast a shadow over our family for years to come. See the Fate and Asparagus page of my blog for other versions.
What happened to Aloïs Delcon, my great-grandfather, on 10 September 1914, when German troops overran the Belgian village of Haacht?
As I grew up, my grandfather’s wartime stories became darker and more complex. One day he told me a story he had never even told his wife.
Little did I know at the time that his tale would continue to dog me with surprising insistence, and that moving to the other side of the world would bring me closer to my family’s history in an unforeseen way…