Synopses & Reviews
Helmer van Wonderen was born a few minutes before his identical twin, Henk, but throughout their youth, Henk seemed more like the older brother. Henk was more popular, the better athlete, and their father's favorite; it went without saying that Henk would take over the family's small dairy farm, and it was no surprise when the beautiful Riet chose to marry Henk instead of Helmer. The van Wonderen farm was far too small to support two families, so Helmer sought to begin a separate life and enrolled in university in Amsterdam.
Months before their wedding, Riet skids off the road and drives into a lake, with Henk in the passenger seat. She makes it out without a scratch; Henk drowns. Old Mr. van Wonderen banishes Riet from his sight, then utters these life-changing words to Helmer: "You're done there in Amsterdam." Helmer withdraws from university, resigning himself to becoming Henk and spending the rest of his days with his head under a cow.
The novel begins thirty years later with Helmer moving his invalid father upstairs to have him out of the way. Helmer has grown up to become a gruff bachelor with a sharp memory, wedded to his routines and the rhythms of the farm. Then one day Riet reappears, recently widowed, with her directionless eighteen-year-old son, who is named after Henk. She thinks that hard work will do Henk some good, and Helmer reluctantly agrees to take him on as a farmhand.
Ostensibly a novel about the Dutch countryside, The Twin is ultimately about the possibility or impossibility of taking life into one's own hands, the strange bond between family and love, and the difference between being lonely and being alone. It chronicles a way of life that has resisted modernity, is culturally apart, and is yet riven with romantic longing.
"A novel of restrained tenderness and laconic humour." J.M. Coetzee
"Human dramas are offset by landscape and animals feelingly delineated, and David Colmer's translation is distinguished by an exceptional (and crucial) ear for dialogue." Paul Binding, The Independent
"Stealthy, seductive story-telling that draws you into a world of silent rage and quite unexpected relationships. Compelling and convincing from beginning to end." Tim Parks
"One of those rare works of fiction that everyone should read. It is full of life and truth, all conveyed through a narrative voice that refuses to allow the reader to turn away for a moment." Eileen Battersby, The Irish Times
When his twin brother dies in a car accident, Helmer is obliged to return from university life to take over his brother’s role on the small family farm, resigning himself to spending the rest of his days with his head under a cow.
Thirty years later, Helmer moves his invalid father upstairs to have him out of the way. Soon after, Riet, once engaged to marry Helmer’s twin, appears and asks if she and her troubled eighteen-year-old son could come to live with them on the farm.
Ostensibly a novel about the canals, the green fields, and the unrelenting flatness of the Dutch countryside, The Twin ultimately opens itself to the possibility or impossibility of taking life into one’s own hands. It chronicles a way of life that has resisted modernity and is culturally apart, yet is riven with longing.
A lyrical, deeply human account of a twin brother, now solo in midlife, finding fulfillment.
When his twin brother is killed in a car accident, Helmer is obliged to give up university to take over his brothers role on the small family farm, resigning himself to spending the rest of his days "with his head under a cow." The novel begins thirty years later with Helmer moving his invalid father upstairs out of the way, so that he can redecorate the downstairs, finally making it his own. Then Riet, the woman who had once been engaged to marry Helmers twin, appears and asks if her troubled eighteen-year-old son could come live on the farm for a while. Ostensibly a novel about the countryside, The Twin ultimately poses difficult questions about solitude and the possibility of taking life into ones own hands. It chronicles a way of life that has resisted modernity, a world culturally apart yet laden with familiar longing.
About the Author
Gerbrand Bakker studied Dutch literature and worked subtitling nature films before becoming a gardener. The Twin
, his first novel, appeared in Dutch in 2006 and was awarded the Golden Dog-Ear Prize for the best-selling literary debut in the Netherlands.
David Colmer is a writer and translator. He is a two-time winner of the David Reid Poetry Translation Prize.