The Twin

The Twin

4.2 5
by Gerbrand Bakker

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When his twin brother is killed in a car accident, Helmer is obliged to give up university 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." The novel begins thirty years later with Helmer moving his invalid father upstairs out of the way, so that he can redecorate the


When his twin brother is killed in a car accident, Helmer is obliged to give up university 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." 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 Helmer’s 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 one’s own hands. It chronicles a way of life that has resisted modernity, a world culturally apart yet laden with familiar longing.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

A novel of restrained tenderness and laconic humor. —J.M. Coetzee

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

This is a novel of great brilliance and subtlety. It contains scenes of enveloping psychological force . . . its extraordinary last section suggesting that fulfillment of long-standing aspirations can arrive, unanticipated, in late middle-age. —Paul Binding

I have rarely been so captivated by a voice. The plot of this unusual novel is simple, but its power is mysterious. Gerbrand Bakker’s tone and language make the despondent yet valiant narrator utterly authentic and the plain rural setting mesmerizing. The family drama has the quality of myth, yet remains rooted in daily reality, so much so that I responded with the innocent surrender of a child reader: I had lived on that Dutch farm and shared the characters’ tragedies and small triumphs. This is a book that restores one’s faith in meticulous realism. —Lynne Sharon

Schwartz I found The Twin, by Gerbrand Bakker, sitting on a coffee table at a writers' colony in 2009. I finished it, weeping, a day later, and have been puzzling over its powerful hold on me ever since. I've recommended it again and again. —Amy Waldman, All Things Considered, NPR

This is a quiet book, humble in tone, with a fine, self-deprecating humour […] It leaves the reader touched and with the impression of having seen and smelled the ever-damp Dutch platteland. —Times Literary Supplement

From the Hardcover edition.

School Library Journal
Adult/High School—Henk was more popular and athletic than Helmer, his identical twin, while growing up on a small rural Netherlands farm. Henk was their father's favorite son. Naturally lovely Riet chooses to marry him instead of Helmer. After Henk dies in an auto accident a couple of months before the wedding, Helmer is forced to leave college and return to the family farm. With deep bitterness, he spends days mucking the stalls and milking cows. Now, 37 years later, Helmer moves his invalid father upstairs to get him out of the way and slowly transforms the living space to be more suitable for a bachelor. After a few correspondences from recently widowed Riet, Helmer agrees to take in her teenage son. She feels that hard farm work will give him some direction. Colmer's superb translation allows the novel's authentic voice to be heard by American readers. Bakker captures Helmer's true feelings with excellent inner dialogue. His ongoing feud with his father instills an unusual bond between the two. Teens will appreciate the setting of farmland, canals, windmills, and green pastures, and some will see how family dynamics are ongoing and changing.—Gregory Lum, Jesuit High School, Portland, OR

Product Details

Steerforth Press
Publication date:
Rainmaker Translations Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
7.30(w) x 5.88(h) x 1.02(d)

Read an Excerpt

I’ve put Father upstairs. I had to park him on a chair first to take the bed apart. He sat there like a calf that’s just a couple of minutes old, before it’s been licked clean: with a directionless, wobbly head and eyes that drift over things. I ripped off the blankets, sheets and undersheet, leaned the mattress and bed boards against the wall, and unscrewed the sides of the bed. I tried to breathe through my mouth as much as possible. I’d already cleared out the upstairs room – my room.

"What are you doing?" he asked.

"You’re moving," I said.

"I want to stay here."


I let him keep the bed. One half of it has been cold for more than ten years now, but the unslept side is still crowned with a pillow. I screwed the bed back together in the upstairs room, facing the window. I put the legs up on blocks and remade it with clean sheets and two clean pillow-cases.

Meet the Author

Gerbrand Bakker studied Dutch historical linguistics and worked as a subtitler for nature films before becoming a gardener. His previous books include an etymological dictionary for children and the young adult novel Perenbomen bloeien wit (Pear trees bloom white). The Twin appeared in Dutch in 2006 and was awarded the Golden Dog-Ear, a prize for the bestselling literary debut in the Netherlands. David Colmer is a writer and translator. He translates Dutch literature in a wide range of genres including literary fiction, nonfiction, children’s books, and poetry. He is a two-time winner of the David Reid Poetry Translation Prize, most recently for Gerrit Achterberg’s poem "The Poet as a Cow."

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The Twin 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
SAHARATEA More than 1 year ago
"Everything is different when you have a coffin in your living room" These are the kinds of sentences that fill The Twin: subtle, understated and crackling. This beautifully written novel shines with its character depiction of Helmer, a man who has made no choices in his life other than selecting the chickens for the farm. His home, the larger farm animals, his furniture and even his work clothes were passed on: choices that belonged to others. However, the impending death of his father leads him to finally and uncomfortably assert his own will by moving the furniture, painting, and throwing out years worth of family relics. With this new and clean space, he finds that the things he can't get rid of become more prominent. The house's newly vacated space feels hollow, a reflection of the state of his heart and mind. He's aware of his emptiness, and it's illustrated when he buys a map to hang as "art" for his walls. The lack of anything attractive on the walls of his house makes the single picture lost and the emptiness all the more obvious. All he can do is look at the map and memorize the places he'd like to someday visit, an urge that seems impossible with all the burdens laid upon him since his teens. He spends his days managing the meager farm, tending carelessly to his father and reeling from the thirty year loss of his twin brother Henk. For a time he allows a wayward teen to help as a farmhand, bringing new dynamics to his empty space. The complexity of the novel isn't simply the missing twin, that sort of story has been written countless times before. Rather, the theme is based on identity of self, not in relation to anyone else (his father or brother) but in the form of his own destiny. He appears to make no strides towards the independence he aspires to, and the contrast between his thoughts and actions creates a tension that is sometimes funny and sometimes brutal. Self-determination is an entirely unknown concept to Helmer, and throughout the novel you question if he ever can achieve it. Some could read a geo-political message in this, but I'd rather leave that out and focus on the beautiful writing and the descriptions that make you pause: in reference to an old log, "even a dead thing can be beautiful." A symbolism that is repeated throughout the novel is of a solitary hooded crow that stalks Helmer through the windows and around the yard, silently glaring. Since crows generally represent sadness or death, I thought it was appropriate in many ways. Yet the way Bakker concludes the story, and accounts for the crow's presence, was still an unexpected surprise.
FunComesFirst More than 1 year ago
This was a good book and the story moved along at a good pace. I definitely was into it, but not "can't put it down" into it.
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