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A magnum opus on history and generational shifts

While the Gods Were Sleeping

Erwin Mortier

Now that she feels death approaching, Helena looks back on her youth, the loves she has known, her marriage and the distressing time she experienced in World War I. A large part of her memoirs are devoted to the difficult relationship with her mother, a strict bourgeoise, who does not approve of Helena’s new views and lifestyle. At the side of her lover, a British photographer, Helena is confronted with the full impact of the war at the front in Northern France and those experiences encumber the rest of her life.

A beautifully unorthodox novel, a kaleidoscopic palette
The Independent

Mortier masterfully portrays the war as an immense machine of destruction that leaves a deep impression on everybody. The relationship between mother and daughter in this book is symbolic of that great breach in mentality history. The novel takes place on the interface between great history and the lives of ordinary people, between historiography and stunning literary prose.

Mortier presents this impressive account in a stately, baroque style following in the footsteps of an old literary tradition. A number of critics have compared him with Marcel Proust. The topic and style make ‘While the Gods Were Sleeping’ in all respects an exceptional literary experience.

The footprint of Proust visible on every page
The Financial Times
‘Truly unique among contemporary authors’
Daniel Seton, Commissioning Editor Pushkin Press

‘When we first read Paul Vincent’s translation of ‘Godenslaap’, we were amazed and entranced by the sheer quality of the writing. Erwin Mortier has an uncanny ability to put the unsayable into words; to make the most ephemeral concepts intelligible. That half-thought or vague feeling you’ve had in the back of your mind for the past few years? There it is, set down on the page in front of you, in beautiful, weightless prose.

We knew he would be a perfect fit for our list - a stunningly good, highly acclaimed author, yet inexplicably unavailable in English. We have now published four of his titles, and ‘While the Gods Were Sleeping’, which had never before appeared in English, is my personal favourite. It combines Mortier’s elegant style and incisive observations with an absorbing and compelling plot.

Erwin Mortier’s highly literary writing, in its sophistication and extraordinary evocation of both memories and the act of remembering, reminds us of many great writers from the past – but, among contemporary authors, he is truly unique.’