While the Gods Were Sleeping

Erwin Mortier (Author) Paul Vincent (Translator)


While the Gods Were Sleeping is a novel about the magnitude and impact of the First World War, the recollections of which are recorded in the notebooks of the elderly Helena. The young Helena is sent to her uncle's country house before the war, and from here she witnesses scenes of indescribable horror. But it is also where she meets Matthew again, a British Army photographer who she goes on to marry. This is a story not about spectacular events; rather, Mortier is concerned with writing about war, history and the past with great empathy and engagement, and with a mixture of melancholy, qualification and resignation.

Product Details

Pushkin Press
Publish Date
February 10, 2015
5.6 X 1.3 X 8.8 inches | 1.2 pounds
BISAC Categories:

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About the Author

Erwin Mortier My Fellow Skin (2000) and Shutterspeed (2002) and the novella All Days Together (2004) quickly established his reputation as one of the leading authors of his generation. For While the Gods Were Sleeping (2008), a novel set against the backdrop of the First World War, he was awarded the prestigious AKO Literature Prize 2009. A consummate stylist, he offers evocative descriptions that bring past worlds brilliantly to life.


"Mortier is superb. . . The push and pull of ugliness and beauty Helena witnessed plays into her conviction about humanity's random and godless state of existence, as the title suggests: 'give us back our mealy-mouthed petit-bourgeois world, ' she writes, knowing that such comforts have been stripped from her. . . [an] ultimately poised consideration of war's long impact on feeling and faith." -- Kirkus Reviews

"Like Michael Ondaatje and Anne Michaels, Erwin Mortier, the 49-year old Flemish writer whose four novels have just been published in North America, is a poetic prose artist. Unlike Ondaatje and Michaels, whose stock has fallen rather sharply in the last decade, Mortier writes stories that stick and characters whose oblique relationship to normalcy lodge themselves in our minds like splinters.... a quintessential and literally definitive work of Belgian literature" -- The National Post

Praise from the UK:

"A beautifully unorthodox novel of the Great War... a kaleidoscopic palette." -- Independent

"Almost too beautiful a writer... the footprint of Proust visible on every page." -- Financial Times

"Sumptuously imagined." -- Independent Best Translated Fiction 2014

"Visceral and heart-stopping...deeply and painfully moving... one of the finest war stories ever written." -- NewBooks

"Sumptuously lyrical." -- We Love this Book

Other praise from Europe:

"Mortier writes so well that you are inclined to see everything else as of secondary importance." -- NRC Handelsblad

"A monumental, phenomenal book." -- De Morgen

"Splendid control of language." -- de Volkskrant

"The author skillfully reconstructs the crepuscular atmosphere of an era that ends with the shipwreck of a civilization, but, paradoxically, also with the sensual awakening of a young girl." -- Figaro

"Threads the heavy folds of history with the needle of poetic sensibility." -- Livres hebdo

"'Multi-layered' is too bland a word for this subtle, sophisticated novel, which moves between different times with such aplomb that the reader never loses the thread." -- Buchmarkt