The Twin

The Twin

4.2 5
by Gerbrand Bakker

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Winner of the 2010 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award

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Winner of the 2010 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award

Editorial Reviews

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
From the Publisher
"After finishing 'The Twin,' all the reader can say is: here is a true writer."
—Het Parool

"The charm of Bakker’s book is how finely every element is balanced, how perfectly the story is paced. … Bakker shows a fine gift for laconic comedy. … The great pleasure of this novel is how it has just enough plot to allow us to relish its beautifully turned observations of birds and beasts, weather and water."
—Tim Parks, The New York Review of Books

"Tense with unuttered yearning … The greatness of this book lies … in a mounting intricacy of feeling as life begins to burgeon out of a stony, wasted existence. … But instead of something terrible happening … rillets of sweetness and joy arise, little springs of gladness. … In the end … this becomes a kindhearted book, kind to both characters and reader."
—Katherine A. Powers, The Boston Globe

“The novel has all the careful observation and and delicate shading of a painting by one of the Dutch masters - Bakker sees beauty and complexity in the smallest corners of everyday life and portrays them with a quiet mastery that gives his story both great weight and great lightness."
—The Quarterly Conversation

"Gerbrand Bakker's writing is fabulously clear, so clear that each sentence leaves a rippling wake."
-Susan Reynolds, The Los Angeles Times

"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 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

"Bakker is above all a gifted stylist. His dialogue is exemplary, and the descriptions of nature have a natural charm worthy of Nescio. It is a long time since we’ve taken such pleasure in a genuinely Dutch novel."

"This is a novel of great brilliance and subtlety. It contains scenes of enveloping psychological force but is open-ended, its extraordinary last section suggesting that fulfilment of long-standing aspirations can arrive, unanticipated, in late middle-age. 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

"Bakker has a gift for investing daily rituals and landscape with the universal questions around identity and self worth. Helmer’s transformation affirms that it is never too late to take responsibility for one’s destiny. This is a beautifully written book - its lustre lies in the clear simplicity of language as well as the authenticity of Helmer’s internal dialogue."
—Ruth Wildgust, The Sunday Business Post (Ireland)

"Bakker captures the feel of life in the Dutch countryside in a style which is both dazzling and subdued. … a poignant story, recounted in a tone at once spare and loving."
—De Volkskrant

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

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Product Details

Steerforth Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 7.10(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

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.

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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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