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The whole 20th century in one novel

Omega Minor

Paul Verhaeghen

‘Omega Minor’ is a total novel with an international air, in which the author explores the essence of human nature – and by extension ‘la condition humaine’ – against the background of twentieth-century history. The Second World War, the persecution of the Jews and the dropping of the atom bomb are of course crucial events that demand attention, but individuals are central to the novel.

A sprawling, provocative, nuclear nightmare of a novel
Time Magazine

In the context of a cosmic-existential vision, Verhaeghen spins together several remarkable life stories that become increasingly intertwined and woven into history as the book progresses. Ultimately all these characters become caught up together in the book’s exciting and harrowingly startling finale, in Berlin, fifty years to the day after the death of Hitler.

Its baroque, epic narrative style and structure, its ambition to lay bare human motivation and its determination to present ‘science, art and memory’ as one great interwoven whole make ‘Omega Minor’ a fascinating and thoroughly impressive book. Its all-embracing and unique approach to a universal theme carries it far beyond the borders of the region in which it originated.

A tremendous achievement
The Independent
The whole 20th century in one novel
Richard Powers
‘Enormous novel with dense prose’
John O’Brien, publisher Dalkey Archive Press (US)

‘After many years, a publisher usually forgets exactly how a certain book was selected, because there are so many different ways this comes about. But in the case of ‘Omega Minor’ I remember exactly how this happened. I had been brought to Antwerp by Flanders Literature to meet with publishers. At the end of one meeting, the publisher mentioned that the American novelist Richard Powers had very much liked a recently published novel, ‘Omega Minor’. He gave me a 25 page sample of this enormous novel with its dense prose, and I read the sample on a midnight train back to Brussels. The decision to publish was made then.

When I received the translation (done by the author himself, a true rarity), I skimmed it and knew immediately that Paul had succeeded. The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize came as a delightful surprise. I wish I could say that all of this had happened as the result of a carefully crafted plan, but of course its publication and success consisted of a series of ‘accidents’, but accidents made possible by Flanders Literature’s help.

Flemish literature is a treasure trove of such writing, but so little, quite regrettably, gets into English.’