Published January 6, 2015 by Farrar, Straus, & Giroux
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The lyrically told story of one of the world’s greatest artists finding his true calling
Though Vincent van Gogh is one of the most popular painters of all time, we know very little about a ten-month period in the painter’s youth when he and his brother, Theo, broke off all contact. In The Season of Migration, Nellie Hermann conjures this period in a profoundly imaginative, original, and heartbreaking vision of Van Gogh’s early years, before he became the artist we know today.
In December 1878, Vincent van Gogh arrives in the coal-mining village of Petit Wasmes in the Borinage region of Belgium, a blasted and hopeless landscape of hovels and slag heaps and mining machinery. Not yet the artist he is destined to become, Vincent arrives as an ersatz preacher, barely sanctioned by church authorities but ordained in his own mind and heart by a desperate and mistaken spiritual vocation. But what Vincent experiences in the Borinage will change him. Coming to preach a useless gospel he thought he knew and believed, he learns about love, suffering, and beauty, ultimately coming to see the world anew and finding the divine not in religion but in our fallen human world.
In startlingly beautiful and powerful language, Hermann transforms our understanding of Van Gogh and the redemptive power of art.
“The Season of Migration is a masterpiece; it blew me away. A triumph of lyrical intensity, resonance of voice, psychological acuity, Nellie Hermann’s novel has shed new light on the Van Gogh few people have known. Heartbreaking and beautiful.” —Mary Gordon, author of The Liar’s Wife
“Although we may know Vincent Van Gogh’s work, and perhaps the broad strokes of his biography, Nellie Hermann’s extraordinary accomplishment in The Season of Migration is to reveal him to us before he knows himself. Still years away from The Potato Eaters, Van Gogh as Hermann has brought him to life is aimless, wrecked, yet driven by the hope of finding communion with the lives he encounters. In language as moving as the work of the artist she renders, Hermann captures in vivid detail that critical period in Van Gogh’s life when, at his lowest point, he begins to find that connection through his art. When his artist’s eye finds flashes of beauty despite the grimmest of circumstances, the reader’s heart will sing.” —Mary Beth Keane, author of Fever
“Fans of Nellie Hermann’s The Cure for Grief already know that she is our expert chronicler of the complex love between siblings; in The Season of Migration, she channels the story of Vincent van Gogh, Theo van Gogh, and the ghost of their dead brother. Hermann writes beautifully about the wrenching pain of disenchantment, as well as its joyful transubstantiation into art .Every scene is a color-saturated dream, every detail lived and felt. Hermann has done something miraculous here.” —Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia! and Vampires in the Lemon Grove
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"In The Season of Migration, Nellie Hermann has constructed a spectacular portrait of an artist simultaneously alienated from and in love with the world. Hermann's Van Gogh is extraordinary—as luminous and intense and strange in these pages as in any of his self-portraits. But the miracle of Hermann’s writing is to make him ordinary at the same time. His struggle to live in a world terrorized by loss and the threat of loss is everybody’s struggle, and as pain in life teaches him slowly to see, we learn to do it as well. By the end of the story, Van Gogh, debilitated and exalted, knows what beauty is. The reader lucky enough to encounter this book will know it, too.” —Chris Adrian, author of The Children’s Hospital