Dirk Kurbjuweit’s Twins is about growing up, first love, and friendship. It’s an affecting novella that provides an empathetic look at two boys struggling through the trials and tribulations of adolescence, which proves as brilliantly absorbing as it is, eventually, soul-shatteringly sobering.
Twins is narrated by Johann reflecting back on his friendship with Ludwig, his best friend and rowing partner in his school years, whose relationship crystallises thanks to a shared, zealous love of winning, whatever the cost. Indeed, it’s their desire to win — to work in tandem, like their greatest competitors, twins from a neighbouring town — that inspires the boys to experience everything together, and form an unbreakable bond, which would surely render them unbeatable. But the strain involved in this — in ensuring every moment is shared and no secret kept, of become one — threatens to shatter their friendship, and distort it into something horrible, particularly as they get older, and raging teenage hormones begin to effect their decisions.
The novel is steeped in bleakness. The world is grey and grim, coloured fleetingly by Johann’s first love, and when the friendship between Johann and Ludwig is allowed to genuinely flourish, unconstrained by their mission to become inseparable. Ludwig’s home — which is the centre of the action — is near a bridge often used for suicides, and one of these provides the narrative with a genuinely surreal and disturbing episode. Twins is most potent when Kurbjuweit examines the adolescent psyche. When reflecting on his youth, Johann recalls: “Back then I was in desperate need of friends. Having friends was all we cared about… If you couldn’t tell somebody about something, it wasn’t real. Friends were like mirrors, and we only existed as reflections. The longer your list of telephone numbers, the important you felt… The more often you talked about your experiences, the more real they were. We wanted to multiply ourselves in order to be somebody.” Kurbjuweit also eloquently describes that moment when children discard their childhoods: “But it was, I think, that summer that we had our first doubts about whether playing was the be-all and end-all of life. They were only fleeting — that flicker of hesitation you feel hanging halfway off a motorbike as you to pretend to lean into a bend, going absolutely nowhere, a shrill screech — the noise of an imaginary engine — emanating from your throat… We abandoned that boisterous, unconsciousness play.” Moments like these are the novel’s most poignant, and make it something very special. They reminded me of my teenage years, when social media was just becoming a thing, and the number of friends you had represented your status quo; and when I was a little younger, playing with my Action Man in front of the television, and suddenly coming to the conclusion I was too old for this, anybody seeing me with this figurine in my hand would laugh at me. I promptly deposited all such toys in my cupboard; out of sight, out of mind. I never played with them again.
Twins paints a troubling portrait of adolescent friendship. It’s a stimulating one-sitting read, superbly translated by Imogen Taylor.
Format: Paperback (196mm x 129mm x 12mm)
Imprint: The Text Publishing Company
Publisher: Text Publishing Co
Publish Date: 28-Aug-2017
Country of Publication: Australia