Review: The Birds

Posted on March 2, 2016

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Birds-Vesaas coverThe Birds
Written by Tarjei Vesaas
Translated from Norwegian by Torbjørn Støverud and Michael Barnes
Archipelago Books
March 2016
250 pages

Mattis lives with this sister Hege in a small cottage by a lake in Norway. He is 37, and she is 40 years old. Mattis loves his sister very much – maybe too much. He is developmentally disabled and relies on Hege for everything. She makes a meager living knitting sweaters and she does take good care of Mattis, in spite of their poverty and her loneliness. The townsfolk laugh at Mattis and call him “Simple Simon.” He has difficulty focusing on tasks so it’s impossible for him to hold down a steady job. Mattis spends most of his time overthinking reality and imagining the way things are, which keeps him stuck in an irrational fantasy world. In Mattis’s mind, the sudden appearance of the birds, a woodcock overhead and a large bird along the road, foretell big changes coming soon. Little does he know that he will deliver the most profound change when he ferries the lumberjack, Jørgen across the lake. The late great Norwegian writer Tarjei Vesaas immerses readers in an intimate portrayal of a childlike mind trapped in a man’s body, and unable to cope with the adult world. First published in 1957, and now translated into English, The Birds dives into the complicated struggle between duty and love, and the tragic outcome of attempting to separate the two.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Peggy Tibbetts

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