Tessa de Loo
Two sisters, one German and one Dutch, reunited after World War II
Her novel De tweeling is De Loo’s most ambitious work to date. Not only is it her most voluminous novel, its subject matter is heavy as well. ‘Love’ here concerns the love between blood relatives, and power here refers to the influence of leaders and national character on individuals.
Two women, both born in 1916, meet each other at the thermal institute of the famous health resort Spa. One, Anna, is German. The other, Lotte, is Dutch, but not by origin: her impeccable German gives her away. She turns out to be the twin sister of Anna, with whom she spent the first years of her life in Cologne (‘a city punished with total annihilation for the arrogance of a people’) and with whom she lost contact shortly after the death of their parents. Because the two sisters have led completely different lives, their unexpected meeting provides the pretext for a Bildungsroman in conversations which reveal the hidden side of history. Anna has seen how much Germans, too, suffered during World War II. She married a Viennese soldier who ended up joining the SS. Lotte is Dutchified, and hid Jews during the war. Her well-founded distrust of her twin sister is confronted with another reality, and has to diminish because of it. In this great two-part story which spans a lifetime, Tessa de Loo pleads for our being more nuanced and humane when dealing with ‘history’.
Ever since her debut, Tessa de Loo has been a popular writer, presumably because of the readily accessible style and intriguing contrasts she employs in her stories and novels. The title story from De meisjes van de suikerwerkfabriek, which tells of four plucky girls who undress a young conductor in a train compartment, contains several elements which tend to dominate her work: power, love and the tension-heightening relationship between the two, best expressed in a closed space. The rise and fall of a counterculture commune are sketched in Meander. Its guru Jesse’s ideals, which include sexual abstinence, make him so out of touch with the world that he himself is the principal cause of the commune’s downfall. Love and power are also present in Het rookoffer, a story about the love between a French teacher and one of her students, and in Isabelle, the story of a beautiful actress who is kidnapped by an extremely ugly woman and is imprisoned in her house.