The Twin

Don’t be surprised when you begin reading Gerbrand Bakker’s The Twin if you feel as if something is missing. No, it’s not that the book is without a cover, title, or page number. What’s missing is the main character’s twin brother, his youthful desires, and sense of self—profound absences that Bakker deftly imprints on the reader through the unadorned life of Helmer van Wonderen. Translated from the original Dutch by David Colmer, Bakker’s expertly woven novel unveils Helmer’s life after the death of his twin brother Henk, including the farming existence Helmer feels he never chose and has thus always resented. 

Bakker’s ability to capture his characters is uncanny, and they are relatable and true. As perpetually lost as Helmer is, his neighbor Ada is ever encouraging. For all of Father’s unrelenting pressure, he finds his foil in the playfulness of Ada’s “helpful” sons Teun and Ronald. And while the hooded crow quietly menaces the family from the farm’s ash tree, the donkeys charm almost every visitor who sees them.

What is brilliant about The Twin is Bakker’s use of simplicity to explore such complex issues as death, regret, obligation, and free will. Every insightful detail, from language to descriptions of scenery to the color of the duvet, elegantly conveys an unexpected depth hidden beneath a mask of modesty.

In other words, you won’t just read this book, you’ll feel this book. What a joy it is to be so affected by words without realizing it!

Austere beauty not only rings true of the text, but of the physical book itself. The cover image depicting languid cows amid endless clouds and skyline are surely representative of both the farm and Helmer’s own puzzling lack of restlessness there. Simultaneously, the splendor of the sunlit blue sky symbolizes a hope that ripens with each chapter.

Though set in modern day, you will certainly question whether Helmer lived his rural life today or a hundred years ago. Then again, perhaps the author is showing us that finding oneself is a timeless endeavor.

We loved experiencing The Twin—and there is really no other way to describe the relationship you’ll have with this novel. Winner of the 2010 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, an NPR pick for Best Foreign Fiction of the Year, a School Library Journal Best Adult Book for High School Students, and a Powell’s Indiespensable Pick, The Twin is published by Archipelago Books.

Praise for The Twin:

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

“The charm of Bakker’s book is how finely every element is balanced, how perfectly the story is paced.” —The New York Review of Books

“Outstanding. . . . One of those rare works of fiction that everyone should read.” —The Irish Times

“Each sentence leaves a rippling wake.” —The Los Angeles Times

“I couldn’t put it down. . . . Subtle, quiet, hilarious, cruel, beautiful, and . . . exhilarating.” —Bookslut

The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker
translated from the Dutch by David Colmer
$16 paperback * 344 pages * literary fiction * ISBN 978-1-935744-04-7
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