“They looked alike. Everyone thought so. They were tall girls with narrow, strong shoulders, always a little bent, which gave them a worried appearance that was quite misleading. And if they had turned round at that moment the double portrait would really have been striking: dark hair, almost chestnut-black, falling smoothly down their backs, exposing delicate little ears, and cut in a straight fringe that concealed the forehead completely. Nobody would ever see their foreheads. But everything could be read in the two pairs of eyes: merriment, sadness, mockery, indifference, passion, and also the speed of their shifting moods, yet what conveyed itself most clearly was that the two sisters appeared to see the world in exactly the same way, and to judge it.”
Lidy and Armanda are sisters. Lidy, 23, is married with a young daughter, and Armanda is just 18 and somehow manages to persuade her sister to exchange lives for a day. Lidy leaves for Zeeland to attend a birthday party, Armanda stays in Amsterdam to look after Nadja and Sjoerd. How are they to know that this is the very night of the storm of 31 January 1953 that would sweep away “1,836 people, 120,000 animals, and 772 square miles of land at one stroke”?
“The sound of a storm defies words. Or rather, the effect it has. The world makes noises. There isn’t a moment of peace in which it isn’t creaking or rustling or banging or talking and uttering every possible nuance of a lament until sometimes it even sings. Some of these noises can wait a little, but others are absolutely urgent.”
It is an odd feeling, reading this book.
The chapters alternate between present and past of sorts. The music of Lidy’s story is slow, gradual, as she awaits the storm, the flood. The time ticks by slowly as the floodwaters rise, and her fate looms. The chapters with Armanda stride on briskly, first it is just as the storm hits, then the aftermath and the tragedy, and then 18 months later at Lidy’s memorial service.
I suppose that is the intention. For you to grieve along with Armanda and the rest of the loved ones, then be struck as you return in the next chapter to Lidy waiting for the flood, high up in that attic room, knowing there is nothing she or anyone else can do. As a result, your heart is pulled towards Lidy waiting her death. But Armanda’s life too has changed, she has outlived her sister, but feels haunted by her presence:
“Do you know what I sometimes still think? Lidy’s just gone for a day, and she’s relying on me to live her life for her, all organized and proper, and that’s exactly what I’m damn well doing.”
The Storm, or De Verdronkene, was an emotional, unforgettable read. As Irisonbooks puts it, it “has that emotional quality which means you will find yourself thinking about it for days after you have read it”.
Magriet de Moor’s other translated works
First Grey, Then White, Then Blue (1994)
The Virtuoso (1996)
Duke of Egypt (2001)
Kreutzer Sonata (2005)
The Storm (2010)