In this work of historical fiction, the Man Booker International–long-listed author of War and Turpentine reconstructs the tragic story of a medieval noblewoman who leaves her home and family for the love of a Jewish boy.
This compression of a millennium inside a single sentence — a contemporary writer gazing through his window at a medieval world — introduces us to the novelistic sleight of hand Hertmans is intent on bringing off ... One of the great challenges of writing historical fiction is deploying the research without calling attention to it. Hertmans dismisses this obligation with a bold announcement: Hey, I did research! ... My first inclination was to balk at this authorial intrusion, but Hertmans is so honestly frustrated and miserable in the modern world that I felt sorry for him ... Hertmans habitually treats the reader to his process ... The novel is an astonishingly capacious form; like Whitman, it can contain multitudes ... an imaginative flight ... It is, as it says right there on the cover, nothing less than a novel. And it’s a really good one.
If your idea of a good holiday read is something emotionally unchallenging and mentally untaxing, then on no account pick up this book ... is as demanding of the reader’s imagination as it is of his or her concentration ... Written in an often breathless, continuous present tense, Hamoutal’s experiences are visualised following Hertmans’s own groundbreaking researches ... Written in an often breathless, continuous present tense, Hamoutal’s experiences are visualised following Hertmans’s own groundbreaking researches.
Reading award-winning Flemish author Hertmans’ literary latest is akin to engaging with a passionate conversationalist about his or her research into an engrossing topic ... Hertmans has a unique voice, and his personal connection fosters a singular depth and engagement of author with subject. The novel is a storyteller’s tapestry: Hertmans’ vivid modern travelogue traces what remains of the historical Vigdis, which he skillfully weaves into his fictional imaginings of Vigdis’ life. The horrors of anti-Semitism and the unintended consequences of the First Crusade are pitilessly portrayed, resulting in a story that is tragic and harrowing, yet beautifully told, with an ambience that is fully realized for both the eleventh century and our own.