The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker
Translated from the Dutch by David Colmer
Archipelago Books, New York, 2009
The Twin won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2010.
From my TBR pile.
A spare and beautiful novel, the story of Helmer, the eldest of a set of identical twins. Henk, his brother, died in a car accident at age nineteen. Henk’s girlfriend, Riet, had been driving. In her grief she turns to his family, only to be turned away by their father. Helmer, who had just entered college, returns to the farm to work. There he stays for 35 years, resentful, angry, lost, only half a man.
“When the frost flowers were on the windows, we lay in our pajamas under a pile of blankets. When it was warm, we lay naked under a sheet. We molded ourselves to each other’s bodies. Together we rode our bikes to Monnickendam: Henk to the agricultural college, me to high school. We were separated all day but in the afternoon we would come riding up from different directions and simultaneously lay our forearms on the handlebars to defy wind and rain together. We celebrated our birthday together, we had friends together and, up to fourteen, we showered together. Until the Saturday night that father split us up. “First one, then the other,” he said. “Now, now,” Mother said later, when we went to her to complain. “You’re not little boys any more.” So what? we thought, but we didn’t say it…We belonged together, we were two boys with one body. From pages 198/199.
After all this time Helmer, taking poor care of his dying father, receives a letter from Riet. She visits him and asks if her eighteen year old son, named Henk, can come and help with the farm work. The boy’s presence opens Helmer to all kinds of memories and to the possibility of change. Bakker’s language and Colmer’s translation give this simple, quiet story a driving force. To me the themes and characters are mythic in scope but completely rooted in reality. The reality of daily work and a brilliantly realized sense of place. This simple book surprised me. I will read it again.