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A gripping masterpiece

We All Want Heaven

Els Beerten

1943. The Germans suffer huge losses on the Eastern front, and many young Flemish men set off for the frontline, full of notions of heroism. Ward is one of those whose decision will later label them as being ‘wrong’, while his friend Jef happens to end up on the ‘right’ side. Four first-person narrators relate the story: brothers Jef and Remi, their sister Renée and their friend Ward. In rich and vivid language, Els Beerten maps out their hopes, dreams and desires, deftly capturing the blurring of the boundaries between good and evil, black and white.

A classic drama of destiny, love and loyalty that Shakespeare himself would not have been ashamed of

The author shuttles back and forth between war and post-war history, between present and past, between soldiers and ordinary villagers. This complex, but unobtrusive structure increases the impact of the events in her moving and subtle portrayal of the darkest pages of our history. The central issue is the consequences and validity of heart-breaking decisions and moral dilemmas. All of the characters follow their instincts and act in good faith. But what happens when the course you have chosen turns out to be the wrong one?

Not a string quartet or a cantata, but a symphony
NRC Handelsblad
A book like this is written once a decade at most
Dagblad van het Noorden
‘A gripping masterpiece’
Helga Preugschat, publisher at Fischer Verlag (Germany)

‘‘We All Want Heaven’ is a gripping masterpiece. The novel is engraved in my memory, I have become very fond of the characters, and I shall never forget them. Jef, Ward and Renée are young people who – just like everyone else at that age – are looking for love, recognition and for their place in life. But then the war begins, forcing them to make self-destructive decisions.

I was particularly fascinated by the fact that I could follow and understand the behaviour of all the characters, even when I didn’t agree with them. I doubted, loved and suffered along with them. Els Beerten succeeds with a unique skill in showing how thin the line between good and evil is and how war irreparably destroys people’s lives and happiness.

Fischer published ‘Als gäbe es einen Himmel’, the German translation of ‘We All Want Heaven’, in 2011. I was delighted that the reviewers and German readers were also unanimous in their enthusiasm. And the literary juries followed suit: in 2012, the book was nominated for the Catholic children’s book prize, the ‘Buxtehuder Bulle’ and twice for the Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis (by the panel of reviewers and by the young readers’ jury). And rightly so!’