Let me simply start off by saying that this is not the only time I will read this book. If I live long enough, this is one of the books I will be reading for a second time. Also, this is not the only book I shall read by this author. After I finish this review, I will order more of her books.
I have read many novels about the first and second World Wars, and I have not figured out exactly where I will place this one on that list, but it will be very high up… In that rarefied category with DOS Passos’, “Three Soldiers,” “All Quiet on the Western Front,” “The Naked and the Dead,” “A Farewell to Arms,” and “The Book Thief.”
“The Twins,” by Tessa De Loo is told in the third person narrative. It is two separate stories, told by twin sisters… Anna and Lotte… Who are separated at about six years old after their father passes away. Lotte is taken in by relatives that live in Holland, and Anna is taken in by relatives living in Germany. Between the time they are separated, and then meet as old ladies at a spa where the water supposedly has rejuvenated effects, they have only seen each other twice.
It is during their treatments at the spa, that they tell their harrowing but different experiences during World War 2. Anna, a volunteer nurse and Red Cross worker, tells her story through the eyes of a German woman trying to survive, and still support her country and its wounded soldiers. In one horrific scene, she walks into a room of a hospital that has been sealed off and on the floor soldiers are rolling around like beach balls with no limbs.
Lotte spends her time during the war sheltering Jewish families and friends from the SS. She looks upon the German people, even though she herself is German, as though they deserved everything that happened to them. Anna’s stories about the devastation of Germany has little effect on her, at least not to the very end.
They both have very tragic stories… Personal stories about loved ones that were killed on the battlefield and gassed to death in the Camps. There are many characters, all that are wonderfully developed. The writing is sublime, and there are passages in this book that remind me of Joseph Conrad and that is the highest praise I could ever bestow on a writer.
This is not a book for the faint of heart. There were times I had to put it down because of the horrific inhumanity being described. Lotte and Anna’s experiences during the war are different, but the one thing they share, in my opinion, is their humanity. When giving a chance to help, they reach out and do just that, despite the deadly consequences. According to Dante, doing nothing when you could help gets you a spot right next to Lucifer in hell, whereas helping when it is the most difficult gets you a spot in Paradise.
I want to thank my friend Hans for this wonderful gift. It is a piece of literature I will cherish.