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Twins by Dirk Kurbjuweit

Laura James

Translated from German, Dirk Kurbjuweit’s Twins is a bizarre tale of two friends.
Twins by Dirk Kurbjuweit

Book cover image, Twins, Dirk Kurbjuweit via Text.

Translated from German, Dirk Kurbjuweit’s Twins is a bizarre tale of two friends and rowers, who seek to become the same in every way, after being beaten by a rival coxless pair of identical twins. The novel is told from the perspective of Johann, the more submissive of the duo, who recounts the beginnings of his friendship with Ludwig and their teenage goal to share thoughts, dream the same dreams and live their lives entirely side by side. 

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It soon becomes apparent to the reader that the boys’ plan to become twins is deeply flawed for they are not evenly matched. Despite their endeavours to be identical in every way, Johann and Ludwig each have their own desires, which inevitably leads to secrets between them.

Johann is the least interesting of the two boys. Obliviously subservient to Ludwig, he accommodates his best friend’s views and ideas as though they are his own, showing little agency until teenage temptation gets the better of him. Ludwig, on the other hand, is a mysterious figure, despite Johann’s belief that the two boys are as good as identical. Ludwig’s motivations are less clear, but his ongoing manipulations and grasps for control over his friend suggest an internal life far more compelling than that presented by Johann, who strangely never seems to question how close he and his friend really are.     

Moments pertaining to the fragility of life and the danger of going to extremes pervade the story from beginning to end. The immense bridge which stands above Ludwig’s house is a silent observer of the lives beneath, lending a sinister quality to all action that unfolds. Consequently, this is an uncomfortable read filled with unmistakable foreshadowing. However, because both Ludwig and Johann are so cold and unaffectionate, even with each other, the conclusion of the novel is largely unmoving.

While an interesting premise, the execution of this story of two friends intent on becoming two bodies with one mind falls flat. Love, sex and the all-consuming nature of teenage friendship are all explored in the novel, but its characters, in their broad strokes, seem ill-fitted to reveal anything of real substance on the subjects. Instead, Kurbjuweit has succeeded at creating an unsettling and atmospheric story that, like Johann and Ludwig’s fantastical plan for after graduation, is intriguing in its imagination, but overall, rings hollow. 

Rating: 2 1/2 stars out of 5 

Twins
By Dirk Kurbjuweit
Paperback, 160 pp, RRP $19.99
ISBN: 9781925603033
Text Publishing

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Laura James is a Melbourne-based reviewer and blogger, currently working in community radio.

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