Front cover of What I'd Rather Not Think About

An extract from What I'd Rather Not Think About by Jente Posthuma, translated by Sarah Timmer Harvey

What I’d Rather Not Think About, originally written in Dutch, is shortlisted for the International Booker Prize 2024. Read an extract from the opening chapter here

What if one half of a pair of twins no longer wants to live? What if the other can’t live without them? This question lies at the heart of Jente Posthuma’s deceptively simple What I’d Rather Not Think About. The narrator is a twin whose brother has recently taken his own life. She looks back on their childhood, and tells of their adult lives: how her brother tried to find happiness, but lost himself in various men and the Bhagwan movement, though never completely. 

Written by Jente Posthuma and Sarah Timmer Harvey

Publication date and time: Published

Waterboarding, I told my mother. It’s when someone places a cloth over your face, then continuously pours water over it. It feels like drowning. It is drowning. 

And you’re going to do it, she said. 


My mother sighed. This has to be one of your brother’s ideas. 

We’d just seen a film about Guantanamo Bay, I said. 

Afterwards, he asked if I could waterboard him, he wants to know how it feels, and I said I’d only do it if he did it to me too. So, that’s how it came about. 

And how was it? My mother asked. 

We haven’t done it yet! 

As my mother grew older, her listening skills had become even worse. 

Oh yes, she said. I was watching a show on television yesterday, and one of my favourite characters was blown up, which is why I slept so poorly. 

Portrait of author Jente Posthuma


We felt we should be able to lie in a reasonably comfortable position, so we decided to do it on my couch. My brother went first. He lay on his back with a red checked dishcloth draped over his face. I stood next to him with a jug of water. 

Here we go, I said, pouring water over the cloth. After a few seconds, my brother pulled the cloth off his face and sat up. 

Maybe we should tie you up, I said. 

I tied his wrists together with one of my stockings and started again. We agreed that I would remove the cloth after thirty seconds and set a timer on my phone. My brother gasped and tried to move his arms. He’s drowning, I thought. It took a long time for thirty seconds to pass and once I’d lifted the cloth away from his face and he’d finished coughing, he said: That’s enough. 

I didn’t want my wrists bound, I wanted to be able to pull the cloth off my face whenever it suited me. 

That’s not how this works, my brother said. He tied the stocking around my wrists and put the cloth over my face. The water ran into my nose, and I couldn’t breathe. I tried to get up and knocked something over with my leg. Once I was finally upright, I shook the wet cloth off my face and wrenched my hands free. 

My brother handed me a tissue to wipe my face but I shook my head, breathing in and out, over and over again. Church bells rang, the alarm on my phone went off. 

Why didn’t you help me? 

Sorry, he said. 

I felt like I was going to throw up. I hung my head over the toilet and waited for something to come out but nothing did and I thought about the time I’d taken a guy home and the way he’d pushed my head down. His hands had covered my ears and he kept pushing my head lower, and maybe he thought it was turning me on because when I pressed against his knees and tried to break free, he gripped me even tighter, and all I could hear was my thumping heart. And then I thought about the first time I’d heard someone say their heart was in their throat. My mother had been the one to say it. She told someone that her heart was in her throat whenever she thought about what the future held for her daughter because I was no great beauty. She didn’t worry about my brother and how he was always plucking his hair, or about the bald patch his plucking caused. I can’t remember when he stopped plucking but he was done with it after a while, and his hair grew back. 

My son is good at everything, my mother often said. One day, he’s going to do something extraordinary. 

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I tied his wrists together with one of my stockings and started again. We agreed that I would remove the cloth after thirty seconds and set a timer on my phone. My brother gasped and tried to move his arms. He’s drowning, I thought.


After my brother was born again during a workshop, he said: 

Life isn’t a straight line. It’s a circle. You can die and start over again. 

The workshop was organised by Osho’s followers, who, twenty years after his death, still viewed him as a spiritual master, which was also the meaning of his name. 

Osho, said my brother. You know who that is, right? The man who used to call himself Bhagwan, which means God. 

Of course I knew exactly who he meant. He was talking about the man who was born Chandra Mohan, a common name in India but when he was a child, his grandparents had called him Rajneesh, which means King of the Night. Rajneesh would often go to the river close to his hometown, push the other children underwater until they were on the verge of drowning and then ask them how it felt. As the Bhagwan, he’d said: Hope is a drug. Only those who are prepared to die will know a life full of love. Those who are afraid of death will never penetrate the mystery of love. He told the people who came to his Ashram in Poona that they needed to surrender themselves. If you walk away now, he said, you might as well end your life. According to him, the urge to kill yourself was a sign of true intelligence and sensitivity, a desire to escape the suffocation of the ego. For those who recognised the pointlessness of everything, suicide — or total surrender — was the only alternative. This is more or less what was posted on one of my brother’s favourite websites, in short, oddly fragmented sentences, all lined up like a bad poem. 

The cause of Osho’s death in 1990 is unclear, as he was cremated a few hours after he died. Just before he died, Osho claimed to have been poisoned while serving time in an American prison in 1985. There are those who believe he’d simply grown tired of living and had asked his personal physician to administer a lethal injection. 

Later, my brother stopped believing life was circular. We’re at the beginning of an extreme weather episode, he said. From here on out, it will only get worse. 

Portrait of translator Sarah Timmer Harvey