Based on a true story, this debut novel tells of identical twins separated at birth and the harsh realities of life in Romania under Communist rule.
Spanning nigh on a century, the tale opens during the Depression in rural Romania. Economic strain has taken its toll on the Antonescu family. As heads of the household, Georgi and Olga steadily realize that their farm is no longer producing sufficient revenue to support everyone under their roof. Their ultimatum to their older children is harsh yet necessary: leave or die. So begins a story of heartache and displacement. Harald, who has acted as a caretaker to his younger siblings, packs the group into a cart and, taking the reins, sets out to find a brighter future. Immediately, Ana, his 11-year-old sister, distinguishes herself as the most discordant of the band, given to sulking when she’s asked to walk behind the cart to relieve the burden on their horse. Harald finds land to farm, and over the course of years, the family forges a new life, although Ana is never really happy. After running back to Georgi and Olga, she decides that she never will return to Harald. Instead, she marries a local policeman, Ion Pavenic. After Ana gives birth to identical twin girls, she suffers a chronic illness and is unable to look after both babies. Harald and his wife, Sophia, take one of the twins, whom they name Viki, and raise her as their own. Viki’s life is a remarkable one, raised in the suffocating conditions of Communist Romania under the scrutiny of the country’s secret service; will she ever find true freedom or discover the truth about being a twin? The author skillfully illuminates the family’s lineage, revealing precisely where the members have come from and the events that have shaped them. Their story is told with sincerity and intense conviction, which makes it all the more captivating. Bennett’s observational skills are highly tuned and effortlessly poetic, to the degree that the atmosphere of a room is wholly palpable: “In the weak lantern light, the family’s mingled breath gusted clouds of vapor that floated up and disappeared into the low ceiling’s exposed rafters.” The culmination of such talents is a beguiling, expertly balanced work played out by characters that are easy to care about and root for.
An ambitious and intricate Eastern European tale that reaches across decades and generations.