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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker

250 pages
Published by Archipelago Books
Translated by David Colmer
$16.00 (Paperback available 8/1/10)

I forget where exactly this was first brought to my attention, maybe on Bookslut, possibly The Millions, maybe Conversational Reading. Somewhere on the internet. But whoever reviewed it loved it, and then it recently won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the largest monetary award for fiction in english on the planet, with a cool 100,000 Euros. So that's impressive.

This is kinda hard to review because the book is so much about a sense of place, the quiet rhythms of a small Dutch farm, and the atmosphere of solitude that Bakker establishes. The prose is stark I guess, though I hate using that overused adjective. Bare prose? Naked prose?

Helmer and Henk were twin brothers. Henk died in a car accident, leaving Helmer to "waste" his life on the family farm. The bulk of the narrative picks up 30 years later, after the Mother has passed, and the now elderly Father is rapidly declining, health wise, requiring Helmer to both care for the farm and for his emotionally cold Father. Then Riet, Henk's would be fiance, contacts Helmer and wonders if her unruly teenage son (though not by Henk) could come and live and work on the farm for a time. Also, the son is also named Henk and is about the same age as of the original Henk, when he died. I know this sounds kind of confusing, but Bakker does a better job than I am doing right now.

It ultimately turns into a story about Helmer trying to understand his role in life without his twin. Who is Helmer? Who is Helmer is relation to his loveless Father? To Riet? To the farm? These all seem like big existential type questions that might appear daunting, but they aren't out rightly pondered (though kinda but in sweet, subtle ways) by Helmer, so it makes for this still, almost nostalgic reading, though nostalgic for what, I'm not quite sure. Nostalgic for solitary Dutch farms I guess.

Reviewed by Schuyler

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