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Arjen Terpstra. De Hearen fan Fryslan.

Arjen Terpstra. De Hearen fan Fryslan. Ljouwert, Netherlands. Friese Pers. 2008. 256 pages. 19.50 [euro]. ISBN 978-90-330-0782-8

The plot of Arjen Terpstra's debut novel may have its soap-opera elements. At times plot and character seem somewhat manipulated for effect, and some episodes are not well integrated. Story threads disconnect and reconnect. So do characters, often tempest-tossed by high-octane events and feelings. And there is high drama, keeping the reader turning the pages. But De Hearen fan Fryslan has more than that. Through vivid characterizations and a fluid style, it offers a fascinating look at the interaction between two cultures and two brothers: their connections and their clashes, and ultimately the one place and person that gave fulfillment to both.

Tsjalling and Tseerd are the twin sons of a well-to-do Frisian farmer. The two could not be more different. Tsjalling is wildly adventurous, impulsive, reckless, and restless, with a constant urge to explore and expand everything as an extension of self. Tseerd, on the other hand, is quiet, introverted, and focused single-mindedly on caring for the affairs of his father's farm. Yet, contrary to all plans and desires, it is Tseerd who goes to America to help out a ne'er-do-well uncle struggling to hang on to a mismanaged dairy farm in southern California. When, again contrary to all intents, Tseerd stays in California, the girl he loved and left behind snares brother Tsjalling. When she is seven months along with their child, they marry.

Back in California, Tseerd is crushed, but is eventually rescued from his solitary, workaholic life by an irresistible beauty from Montana. Together they build up a huge Montana ranch. One day, twin Tsjalling in Friesland is jolted by a strong psychic feeling that something serious has happened to Tseerd in Montana. It is at that precise moment that Monica, Tseerd's beautiful wife, finds her husband on the floor, dead from a heart attack. Tsjalling now knows with an unshakable certainty that the time for him to go to America has at last come. He leaves behind the wife that had been intended for his brother, as well as their mentally impaired son, and replaces his twin once again as Monica's new lover. Montana turns out to be the great life and Monica the great love he has always sought. They have a son together, and eventually Tsjalling's aged father and son from Friesland come to join the happy little family in Montana.

Actually, the plot, partly based on real events and characters, has many more layers. There are several additional family connections made to signify in both countries; there's a frontier preacher who builds a prosperous business as bar owner, whorehouse operator, sheriff, and judge; and there's a physically and psychologically damaged farmhand whose final explosive breakdown affects the story's closing tragedy.

Though this is his first novel, Arjen Terpstra is no novice writer. He has been honing his skills for many years as a journalist and screenwriter. Now a novelist, no doubt he has more books to come. The difference between a good book and a great book is often a matter of scope and depth, a depth of exploring human meaning that stimulates thought and feeling. This is a good book, impressively entertaining and consistently interesting. Readers may expect a lot less from a first novel.

Henry J. Baron

Calvin College
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Author:Baron, Henry J.
Publication:World Literature Today
Date:Jul 1, 2009
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