Monday, February 20, 2012

Fiction: The Quiet Twin by Dan Vyleta

When Dan Vyleta’s debut novel, Pavel & I, was released early in 2008, I said that I could not imagine that a book of such staggering quality could be given less attention. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Vyleta’s second outing, The Quiet Twin, out this month from Bloomsbury in the US and last year from HarperCollins Canada, has been given even less push and attention. Tragically -- and almost unimaginably -- it’s an even better book.

The Quiet Twin is a fully nuanced nightmare of reality. Set in Vienna in 1939, it is not immediately apparent that an apartment building is either a metaphor for or a microcosm of the rise of fascism in Europe. But it is not the topic that makes this book a complete and perfectly wrought work of literary genius. Or maybe more accurately, it is not just that. Instead, as with Pavel & I, Vyleta starts us off thinking we’re involved in a particularly good war-time thriller. It’s not until we’re deeply involved with Vyleta’s completely compelling story that we realize that more is going on here than meets the eye.

Dr. Beer unwillingly makes a house call in his own building where he is shown into the bedroom of a young woman who doesn’t appear the least bit ill. Through her window, the young woman shows the doctor a whole world he didn’t know existed. She guides him to see the hive of activity right across the courtyard. Dr. Beer is both enthralled and repulsed by what he is shown.

The building is down-at-the-heel and has certainly seen better days. With the building’s Jews already taken away to the camps, the residents left are hateful, mistrustful and, as it turns out, much, much worse. As Beer looks deeper into the lives of his neighbors, he sees the very worst of humanity and Vyleta’s strength as a writer is such that we can see and feel the evil and when Beer tries to air out his apartment, we can smell the decay that comes the open window.

The Quiet Twin is a searingly good book. It’s even better than Pavel & I, a book I found nothing short of astonishing. I find that I must once again be careful in writing about Vyleta’s work. The temptation to reach for hyperbole is almost overwhelming. It astonished me also that, in the US, The Quiet Twin is published as a paperback original. Read it now, while Vyleta is still our secret. If there is justice, that will not be the case for long. ◊

Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.



Anonymous Raintree said...

I could not agree more. This novel was my favorite of last year's crop and I have done my best to hand sell it to our customers. It captures the sense of dread and wonder of a time and place few of us will hopefully never have to live through, though so many have and still do.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012 at 7:48:00 AM PST  

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