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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.’
The novel begins thirty years later with Helmer moving his invalid father upstairs to have him out of the way as he sparsely redecorates the downstairs, finally making it his own. Then one day Riet, the woman who had once been 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 countryside, The Twin is ultimately about the possibility or impossibility 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 romantic longing.
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
Bakker's considerable achievement is to take a character and location that might work in a Breughel painting and make them thoroughly relevant and contemporary. . . . All is revealed, slowly, and with a wonderfully quirky, misanthropic deliberation that we haven't seen in, well, donkey's years."
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
After finishing The Twin, all the reader can say is: here is a true writer."
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."
—Times Literary Supplement
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)
A novel of restrained tenderness and laconic humor."
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."
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