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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Memorable
Helmer runs his farm situated in the Dutch Platteland while also caring for his dying father. Now in his sixties Helmer, lost his twin brother when they were in their teens, his brother being his father's favoured son and the one destined to take on the farm. Helmer sought an academic future, but at the loss of his brother his father gave him no choice but to take on the...
Published on 21 Oct. 2010 by Benjamin

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18 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Dutch book but poorly translated
I always read the Amazon reviews, but this is the first time I've felt compelled to contribute one myself. I first read this book in my native Dutch language and thought it was wonderful - beautifully and sparsely written, conveying brilliantly the mindset of a farmer who has tried all his life not to think too deeply about difficult life and family issues, but is now...
Published on 17 Nov. 2010 by I Wijne


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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Memorable, 21 Oct. 2010
By 
Benjamin (UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Twin (Paperback)
Helmer runs his farm situated in the Dutch Platteland while also caring for his dying father. Now in his sixties Helmer, lost his twin brother when they were in their teens, his brother being his father's favoured son and the one destined to take on the farm. Helmer sought an academic future, but at the loss of his brother his father gave him no choice but to take on the farm.

Helmer relates the time spent caring for his distant father and the farm, his association with his neighbours and their two young boys, the period he takes on a young lad to help around the farm ,and as he looks back to his friendship with a young farmhand in his father employ. We follow Helmer as he moves from being a man who had no choice to approaching the possibility of being his own master.

The Twin is a beautiful story about a basically lonely man. There are no great dramas here, no cliff-hangers, with perhaps the exception of one brief episode, it is simply a gentle yet captivating tale; a most enjoyable read.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredibly moving, 27 Jan. 2011
This review is from: The Twin (Paperback)
There may be some spoilers ahead!

The book addresses several themes: aging and loneliness, heartache and complexity of relationships within families, especially that thing so special that is the relationship between brothers, who in this case are twins, and one of them died young. In addition, the book is set in a rural environment, and dedicates an almost obsessive attention to tasks and their timing, and the rhythm of the work of a cattle farm, and is unsparing in remarks on bikes, ice skating, canoeing, and fauna and flora in general.

Helmer, the surviving twin, is in his fifties, lives a difficult relationship, made of a lot of remorse and revenge, with his dying father. Many moments of this relationship disturbed me a lot, either by the situation of a child having to take care of his father who is in the process of accelerated degradation, or because it has a very large dose of cruelty and I could never stop relating to what I am currently living in terms of family status.

The only company Helmer has are a neighbor and her two sons, still infants, who help him in some of the farm work, namely in taking care of the pair of donkeys that Helmer, against the will of his father, bought to the farm.

One day Helmer got the visit of Riet, the ex-girlfriend of his dead twin brother, that had been expelled from home by the brothers' father, who blamed her of this untimely death. As a result of her visit, the son of Riet, a troubled 17 year old that has the same name of his dead brother, spend a few months to live with Helmer on the farm as an assistant, and the relationship between them is anything but simple.

On his father's death, Helmer is visited by a former worker of the farm, from the time when the twin was still alive, and that was the only person who valued and paid attention, and even affection, to Helmer.

Basically, this is what happens throughout the pages of the book. But this set of complicated relationships, all full of anguish, is served by a very dry language, with very few adjectives, written in first person, and loaded with an amazing humour, sometimes ironic sometimes tender.

The book moved me greatly, but it amused me even more. It made me love the main character, and I was fascinated by the person who was able to write a book so full of emotion and humour, and especially as able to grasp feelings and emotions, particularly the more complex and subtle. It was no doubt about it, my favourite book of the year.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great writing, memorable story, 20 Aug. 2012
This review is from: The Twin (Paperback)
If you are looking for an action packed thriller, this is definitely not the book for you. This is a subtle story about family ties, loneliness, grief and, ultimately, hope. It is a joy to read and it is far from being depressing and gloomy as there is humour woven into the story throughout.

Helmer and his twin brother Henk were inseparable as children, but Henk was killed when the boys were in their teens and Helmer's life changed. He had never wanted to take over the family farm, but following Henk's death he is forced to give up his studies and devote his life to farming. This was to have been Henk's role in life. As the book starts, Helmer is middle-aged and his father is old and slowly dying. Helmer moves him to an upstairs room and starts to make changes in the rest of the house. A neighbour and her small boys call in from time to time, but mostly Helmer is alone with his father, his memories and the animals. The landscape is bleak, beautiful and unforgiving. Little changes. Then quite suddenly a new Henk appears in his life and long buried memories come to the surface.

I loved the quality of the prose, and so some credit must go the translator as well as the author. I loved the descriptions of the details of Helmer's daily life and his surroundings and I particularly liked the way the story evolved. We don't get the back story in one great lump, it is revealed to us bit by bit as we move through the book. Our opinion of Helmer gradually changes as we learn more about him and his relationships with his father and brother. This is great writing and a memorable story.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Like nothing you've read before, 19 May 2012
This review is from: The Twin (Paperback)
This is a starkly beautiful book, written like nothing I've read before. Set in the Waterland of northern Holland, the prose is as spare and gaunt as the empty landscape of wintry fields and frozen water in which it is set. It has an impressive sense of place; Bakker has that rare ability to transport the reader to a foreign landscape so that, by the end of the book, every field, tree and dyke seems intimate to us.

The plot concerns Helmer, a single farmer in his fifties. Helmer never chose to be a farmer; it only fell to him after his twin brother, Henk, died some three decades before. And now that Helmer's elderly father is dying, Helmer is aware that his life is on the cusp of change. The possibility of change is brought sharply into focus when Henk's former fiancé turns up, and seemingly offers an alternative future.

The novel is narrated in the first person, and the spartan prose reflects the constrained existence of Helmer's llife. What is marvellous about Bakker's writing is the way in which mundane details of Helmer's day are placed, without comment, against the unfolding plot. This creates a deadpan humour that contrasts with the bleakness of his life.

The novel is sad, but beautiful; unromanticised, but profound, a book full of longing and loneliness, of the unsaid and undone. It is fabulous.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book of loneliness, longing and beauty., 13 Feb. 2011
This review is from: The Twin (Paperback)
This a beautifully written book which captures the essence of love and longing and loneliness. Beneath the calm and little changing surface of Helmer's life lies a depth and turmoil of emotion: love, including physical love, for his long-dead twin brother; hatred of his father, slowly dying, including of partial neglect, in an upper room - and longing: longing for love and fulfilment. Helmer, as the narrator, writes allusively but powerfully of his emotions with a world of passion hidden in a gesture of affection, quickly withdrawn or in the sparse but eloquent description of his relationships with his few neighbours and acquaintances. Above all, this is a book about love: love withheld, love lost and, in the end, tentatively and awkwardly, love discovered.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb, 19 Oct. 2009
This review is from: The Twin (Paperback)
This is the most extraordinary book. Laconic, well-paced, with the strongest sense of place and atmosphere. It seems at first like a study of quiet hatred between two members of a family trapped by a shocking bereavement and the relentless commitment that is the farming life. But as this entirely credible and almost gentle story unfolds, we see the brilliance of the author's ability to depict psychological change. Gerbrand Bakker has perfect pitch as a writer. In the famous old reader's words, 'I could not put it down'. I think it is a flawless piece of work - certainly the best novel I have read this year - by far.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The passage of time, 25 Aug. 2014
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This review is from: The Twin (Kindle Edition)
What should have been. Helmer and Henk. The twins. But Henk has been dead for thirty years, Helmer is alone and their father is bedridden and dying upstairs. Helmer is alive, he’s in control of everything – the farm, the house, his father – everything except his life. Then Riet, Henk’s ex-fianceé, asks if her son might stay awhile.
The prose, translated from the Dutch by David Colmer, is precise and sparse. It’s apt, reflecting a novel of frustrations and could-have-beens. The setting, in the rural Netherlands countryside is depicted with similar accuracy and cool observation. The weight of the past and the unrealised future lie over this book like low cloud.
But wait!
Firstly, it is not depressing, more thoughtful and considered. Reminded me frequently of the paintings by Dutch masters – how much can be evoked by an apparently simply rendered scene. Secondly, an atmosphere of place permeates the mood of the book.
As well as the location, the passage of time influences the ambience. Seasons, routines, life and death, cycles and ticking clocks all play a role, but whether tragic or comic is up to interpretation.
There is dry humour, achingly lovely description and a deft touch any writer could learn from, not to mention the use of symbolism and metaphor. The ending is a surprise and challenges the reader’s conviction that nothing can change.

I looked up the Dutch title and it seems to say 'Above is Stillness'. I find this a far better title – ambiguous, reflective and not what it first appears.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Geography of His Voice, 5 July 2010
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This review is from: The Twin (Paperback)
It was interesting to me to see how voice and place can be so melded in a narrative.
The spare almost aching prose seems to reflect the lace and the life of this frugal man, and yet it's also rather swollen...one can almost feel the 'water' in this place, under the surface. It's because of the terrible restraint that's actually so moving. I am reading it very very slowly to enjoy it. It feels like it could have come from no other place bu the Netherlands. It's a real achievement. Its made me think about language and geography and how one might well spring from the other. It's made me think about Shakespeare and Hardy and how they operate. It's made me think about the patchwork quilt of England and its gardens and what tha means to language when you have the resources we do working in English. or maybe I am just high on summer. Anyway, this is a beautiful book and I can't wait for his next one. For meticulousness married with patience and compassion, he's very much like William Trevor. Beautiful!
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My book of the year 2009, 8 Jan. 2010
By 
Mrs. M. Daly - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Twin (Hardcover)
This was my favourite book of last year. A beautiful story, beautifully written. And a very fitting ending. I was really sorry to have to finish it!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Still has me thinking...., 30 Mar. 2014
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This review is from: The Twin (Paperback)
I gave this book 5 stars because it's been three months later and I'm still thinking about this book - and it's that a mark of a good novel? I've even passed this on to friends so I can discuss it with others. This would be a good one for a book club. It's a quick read but the characters still with you..or maybe haunt you. I grew up on a dairy farm and I'm not sure if all the subtle references around the farm lifestyle will be picked up by non-farmers.
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The Twin
The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker (Paperback - 7 May 2009)
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