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Tzum | review: Jaap Robben – Twilight Life

Tzum | review: Jaap Robben – Twilight Life
Tzum | review: Jaap Robben – Twilight Life

Shut up, shut up, shut up

It all starts so beautifully for the young Frieda Tendeloo: a chance meeting in 1963 on the frozen Waal near Nijmegen with a slightly older man makes the already special day even more special. She sees Otto again when he has a bouquet made for his parents’ grave at the flower shop where she works. Love ignites and the extramarital affair for him is an escape from her monotonous life, still living at home with her Catholic parents. Everything is going well until she accidentally becomes pregnant.

The memories of that time come back strongly after the sudden death of her husband Louis and her hasty move to a care home. The fact that her son Tobias’ wife has just become pregnant acts as a catalyst for her memory.

Jaap Robben late in Twilight Life see how a trauma of a now 81-year-old woman can resurface. In the 1960s, an unwanted pregnancy was a huge disgrace to the family. The culture of shame in Catholic circles is clearly visible with the pastor who recommends that the child be born in a nunnery and then hand it over. Or in the reaction of her parents who – if Frieda refuses all possible solutions – kick her out of the house. She loses the job in the flower shop, because what will the customers think. With everything that follows and becomes more intense, the recurring words of her environment are ‘Shut up, shut up, shut up. Do you promise?’ And that’s what Frieda does all her life.

Robben knows how to strike the character of this woman well by giving meaning later in the story with small elements that seem a bit strange at first sight. Why is she so attached to that member cactus that used to be in her old house? Why is she so resigned when her son shows the ultrasound of her first grandchild to be? Why does she hit her caregiver hard when she puts a washcloth over her eyes? The only way out of the memories that plague her is for her to talk about it, but it’s not easy. “Now that I have to talk about it, I seem to have to invent a whole new language for it. My available words feel so limited.’

In Twilight Life Robben tells the hard story of many women about a time that is not so far behind us. It makes for a beautiful novel that offers compassion.

Coen Peppelenbos

Jaap Robben – Twilight Life. DeGeus, Amsterdam. 310 pp. €23.99.

This review first appeared in the Leeuwarder Courant and the Newspaper of the North on September 9, 2022.

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Tags: Tzum review Jaap Robben Twilight Life

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