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Nino Haratischwili

Nino Haratischwili. Photo by Yves Noir

Nino Haratischwili was born in Tiflis, Georgia in 1983. She is an award-winning novelist, playwright and theatre director and has been writing in Georgian and German since the age of twelve. Her debut novel Juja was longlisted for the German Book Prize. Mein sanfter Zwilling (My Gentle Twin) won the Hotlist German independent publishers’ best book award in 2011. Haratischwili lives in Hamburg and was the writer-in-residence at the British Centre of Literary Translation’s summer school in July 2012.

Featured Reading Group Title

Mein sanfter Zwilling (My Gentle Twin)

The story of two people who cannot possibly love each other. A great love and a fatal passion between two individuals who can only define themselves through one another and yet have to keep going their separate ways.

Ivo and Stella grow up as close as twins although they are not related by blood. Every attempt to live without each other, to escape from the vicious circle of wild erotic encounters and hateful fights, fails miserably. It’s a nameless greed that keeps driving them back to each other and a deeply hidden anger that prevents them from ever being happy together.

Haratischwili’s novel tells the story of this great love and fatal passion, revealing along the way step by step and layer by layer the family drama that chains Stella and Ivo together.  In flashbacks, Stella tells the story of her family from the moment when Ivo entered her life. Her father’s affair with Ivo’s mother. The afternoons in the remote house by the harbour where the couple meet up and the children play, watching the adults in love. Through their parents, Ivo and Stella grow closer and try to keep their secret as best they can from the rest of the world. The affair ends at one blow when Ivo’s father comes home unexpectedly from a business trip.

In powerful and melancholy language and with great gravity and eye for detail, Mein sanfter Zwilling reveals the imperfections and intricacies of human nature in the story of a shocking family drama, a lost childhood and a great love for which there is no place.

First recommended by Charlotte Ryland

More Information

  • Mein sanfter Zwilling is featured in our German-language reading group for Spring/Summer 2012.
  • Katy Derbyshire’s translated extract from My Gentle Twin (178) is available to download.
  • If you’ve read the book or translated extract, let us know what you think by commenting below.

5 Comments

  1. People at the 28 May ’12 meet-up in Dialogue Books, Berlin, generally
    found My Gentle Twin entertaining reading, and “everyone who’s ever
    dated men” identified with the narrator. The idea of a traditional
    intense love story with a twist – “not Capulets and Montagues but
    Capulets and Capulets” – went down very well. A lot of people enjoyed
    the deviant sex scenes too, and the emotional mess involved.

    There was strong praise for the childhood sections, which really “came
    alive”. The section set in Georgia divided opinion again though, with
    some really liking it – “evocative”, “obvious passion”, “great
    descriptions” – and others feeling the author’s strong point was less
    on description than on interaction, possibly reflecting her theatre
    background.

    Everyone liked the fact that the novel had a hook, “it had to have a
    dark secret” but it wasn’t as heavy-handed as a lot of
    English-language writing might be, but one person was annoyed by the
    constant references to guilt – “the mystery wasn’t that huge because
    she kept saying Schuld all the time”.

    For several people it was one of those books that make you “crazy in
    the head”, which was generally considered a good thing. We liked the
    fact that there were so many different models of motherhood in the
    novel, from Stella’s rather hapless attempts to perfectionist Leni to
    Tulja the aunt and of course Salome in Georgia. We talked about the
    characters and analyzed their relationships, as you do. We looked at
    whether the book shows signs of being typical “immigrant literature”
    or is in fact an “inverted immigrant’s story” with native characters
    going to the author’s actual place of origin.

    Saving the issue of whether it would be suitable for And Other Stories
    for the final session, at the end of the discussion everyone gave the
    book marks out of ten from their personal viewpoint. Oddly enough,
    “everyone who’s ever dated men” gave it much higher marks than the
    self-confessed heterosexual males in the room – which might suggest
    it’s a book that touches a nerve for those who identify with the
    narrator.

    Reply
  2. If you’re reading along at home, we’d welcome your comments too!

    Reply
  3. Alison Layland says:

    I have just finished reading the novel and thoroughly enjoyed it. Thanks, Katy, for the report of the reading group’s opinion, some very interesting comments. I am “someone who’s dated men” but thankfully nothing like this destructive and obsessive relationship (!) – though having said that I really identified with the characters (both Stella and Ivo), sympathised and constantly wanted to know more about the background and what drove them to behave as they did. I also thought she portrayed the other characters (especially Tulja and the long-suffering Mark) convincingly and sympathetically. Not a comfortable read but I was emotionally involved throughout, which is something I always look for. I thought the novel created some very evocative atmospheres, as well as (as others have said) conveying the relationships and conflicts with immediacy. I also really enjoyed the section in Georgia, both from the point of view of the story and its interaction with the main characters’ situation, and of gaining an insight into the country’s recent past.
    While I sympathise with the “Schuld” comment above, and thought there was slightly too much obvious self-analysis in places, overall I found it a really absorbing read.

    Reply
  4. Kim Sanderson says:

    I’ve just finished reading the book, too. I found it gripping from start to finish, because I empathised with Stella, but also because there was an interesting plot being unravelled. I can see the point made by the reading group that description was not a strong point, but it wasn’t something I missed, the nature of the book was more of an internal/emotional journey.

    Reply
  5. Deborah Langton says:

    Some thoughts from me to re-join the discussion.Yes, I do want to know why Ivo and Stella are as they are. But for me their self-destructive, ‘we are victims’ mentality comes across at best as annoying and at worst as rather ‘dated’. What on earth does she mean by that, I hear you cry, so I shall try to explain. The current ways of thinking among younger people are very much ‘deal with it’, particularly where the person concerned has an interesting job, a great husband, a lovely child and helpful in-laws. Yes, OK, she and Ivo were left confused and upset by their parents’ behaviour and by their own intense relationship. But Stella is doing the same to her child and does not stop to think too much about messing up his life in the way that she feels hers was messed up…. A second ‘dated’ aspect for me is the way Stella, whether as daughter, mother, lover, whatever, only ever sees herself in relation to other people. She seems not to exist in her own right as a capable woman. Good, yes, she is aware of that and can articulate it but ‘get on with your life’ and/or get some good therapy were the thoughts that kept coming into my head! She allows herself to be a victim and this becomes near comedic as she gives in to Ivo again and again both psychologically and physically. It is a good yarn, but the language is not rich, as I think other have observed already. I enjoyed the repetition of variations on a theme of ‘Ich sah ihn an’, ‘Er sah mich an’ as if the characters are constantly pausing to look, to think, to reflect. Sadly, though, not to take action to resolve the endless, closed circles of what could be seen as a self-imposed hell.

    Reply

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