When I was younger, I used to have a recurring dream about a world I haven't experienced in real life: I found myself in a place that was being bombed. I was hiding inside a house, a deafening noise around me; through the windows I could see the planes and hear the explosions. I was living intensely in a dimension that was at war; I felt the terror, the helplessness. I have no idea why I had those dreams. I haven't lived through a war, I don't know how bombardments feel like. But my dreams felt real nonetheless. It could have been my reality in another life, if I were to believe in it. Or it could be the reality of my dreams, a realm where my mind continues to live without my body.
Ágota Kristof lived through a war but she writes her novels like they were a dream. We are never sure what is real and what is imagined, where the truth ends and where the lies start. Twins with a single voice, a common life; it could well be just one person who dreams; a lonely, scarred soul that can't bear the loneliness and torment. And yet the dream might be true; we can never be sure. Three versions of the same truth. We could pierce through the veil of lies and take a glimpse of the bare truth. But we might not find ourselves in the right dimension; a truth in one world could be a lie in the other.
What if we lived in a dream? Its reality is different than the one we find when awake. I sometimes wish I could live a bit longer in the realm of my dreams. Mysterious cities, incredible adventures. Being able to kick the ground and rise in the air, flying above the city. We should be able to choose the reality we desire, the one that makes us happy. We should be able to live in the reality of our dreams - our mind does not need our weak body there.
The twins do everything together, their voices are one. Their will is already strong, bent to no one. They help if they feel it is justified, but never because of being asked. An unscrupulous correctness down to the smallest details. And, more important of all, exercises to toughen the body and spirit. They learn to face hunger, pain, injustice; they learn to live with cruelty and death; they learn what it is to be blind and deaf.
They observe and never judge, but they resort to vengeance when deserved; their law is the Old Testament law. They accept every experience without a flinch or wonder; they observe and learn. They tread the path of cruelty and promiscuity - or is it the path that leads to primitive life, to the original nature of man? Are they sociopaths or do they represent the new man, the product of a world at war?
The twins defy the terror around them. They have their own path, their own law. They feel more scared in a crammed cellar than roaming the deserted streets, surrounded by bombs and soaring planes. Valiance, recklessness, or maybe it is indifference? We perceive the war through their eyes - the foreign soldiers, the deportation of Jews, the atrocities committed. It is a twisted world with an ugliness, cruelty and depravity distorted to the point where it becomes absurd, irrational, sickening. The twins are surrounded by a new town of Babel, where the law of survival prevails.
This novel is one of the saddest and most shocking I've read. But the saddest of books can never be sadder than a life, Kristof says. How much can a human being endure? If you search for a meaning of life, there is none, she says. What about love, the universal elixir of happiness? The twins exclude the word and the notion of love from their lives. But what is the bond between them, if it is not love? Their experiments deny human feelings and weaknesses; they challenge hunger, pity, attachment. They go even further - they try to break their bond. They attempt the ultimate experiment, dividing one being into two halves. It's no longer a matter of happiness, because the important question is: can the two beings survive? Do they know how to live on their own separate way?
Read this novel. Read it and experience the pain and the sadness. You'll be sick, disgusted, tormented. When you'll close the book, you'll realize you won't be able to smile for a while. You'll feel like you've really lived through a war. You survived, but you'd rather be dead. The world of lies won't suffice anymore.