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Craving Solitude In 'Ten White Geese'

Gerbrand Bakker is a Dutch writer and gardener. The English translation of his debut novel, <em>The Twin</em>, won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
Ella Tilgenkamp / Penguin
Gerbrand Bakker is a Dutch writer and gardener. The English translation of his debut novel, The Twin, won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.

Gerbrand Bakker's new international best-seller, Ten White Geese, opens with a mysterious woman alone on a Welsh farm. Humiliated by an affair with a student, she turns up alone at the farm, looking for nothing and no one. She answers to the name Emily, but that is actually the first name of the American poet about whom she is writing her doctoral dissertation. Her husband has no idea where she is.

"She's trying to make the best of it, and she tries to be alone. But as you and I know and everybody knows, it is virtually impossible to be alone in these times," Bakker tells NPR's Jacki Lyden.

The search for solitude is just one theme in this mysterious — and often menacing — story. The woman is haunted by the memory of who she once was, and the farm seems to be giving her a chance at reclaiming her health and strength.

Then, all around her, things start to happen in the natural world that remind her of her own mortality. The white geese that live on her farm begin to disappear, one by one, and she cannot save them.

Bakker talks with Lyden about the novel and the escape for solitude.

Interview Highlights

On escaping distraction to write

"I don't know if a lot of people realize this, but for a writer these days, it's horrible. Cellphones are horrible for us because people know things about each other all the time."

On writing about the connected world

"It is more and more impossible to not know things about other people. And a lot of plot-driven books, and especially thrillers, are based upon people not knowing things. ... I find it a curse."

On writing in the voice of a woman

"I am a strange man, maybe, but I think that there is no fundamental difference between men and women. A lot of people would say otherwise, perhaps."

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