The Bird Lovers, by Jens Bjorneboe

Jens Bjorneboe

Jens Bjørneboe was born in 1920, in Kristiansand, a city South-West of Oslo. He grew up in a wealthy family - his father a shipping magnate and a Belgian consul. Bjørneboe had a troubled childhood with sickness and depressions. He was bedbound several years following severe pneumonia. Already at thirteen he attempted suicide by hanging himself.

While in exile in Sweden during WW II he met the German Jewish painter Lisel Funk, who later became his first wife.

The socially critical novels Ere the Cock Crows (Før Hanen Galer, 1952), Jonas (1955) and The Evil Shepherd (Den Onde Hyrde, 1960) are important and good. His most central work is by many considered to be the trilogy The History of Bestiality, consisting of the novels Moment of Freedom (Frihetens Øyeblikk, 1966), Powderhouse (Kruttårnet, 1969) and The Silence (Stillheten, 1973).

Jens Bjorneboe

In 1967, he was convicted for publishing a novel the pornographic novel Without a Stitch (Uten en tråd, 1966), which was confiscated and banned in Norway, and created quite a stir. The trial, however, made the book a huge commercial success. His last major work was the novel The Sharks (Haiene, 1974).

Bjørneboe was quite a celebrity in Norway, very engaged and participated in numerous public debates in the media. He became more and more radical with increasing age, and ended up as an anarchist. Throughout his life he struggled with financial problems, alchoholism and depressions.

After having struggled with depression and alcoholism for a long time, he committed suicide on May 9, 1976.

The Bird Lovers, by Jens BjorneboeThe Norwegian author Jens Bjorneboe is very well known in Europe and held in high regard in Norway. However, he is relatively unknown in the US. This is the first English translation of one of his plays. Bjorneboe is mostly known for his novels and essays, but also wrote several excellent plays. His best plays are probably The Bird Lovers and Semmelweis.

Bjorneboe's writings often dwell on major moral issues. Bjørneboe was a harsh and eloquent critic of Norwegian society and Western civilization on the whole. His major literary work, the trilogy The History of Bestiality, (Moment of Freedom (Frihetens øyeblikk, 1966), Powderhouse (Kruttårnet, 1969) and The Silence (Stillheten, 1973), is concerned with cataloguing cruelty, evil and bestiality in history.

The Bird Lovers too offers a bitterly dark view of humanity. As the translator asks in his introduction, "What price does Justice demand for crimes committed in the name of State?" The plot concerns two German bird-watching tourists who are recognized by local Italian bird hunters as former Nazi officers. Now the Germans want to turn a small Italian village into a tourist haven for birdwatchers. This, however, would require the natives to give up their habit of hunting and eating songbirds.

A plan to avenge their crimes leads to a mock trial, with a priest appointed to defend the Germans, cataloging heinous acts under different authorities. The well-argued appeal of acting under orders fails, but a second appeal of economic rationale succeeds: the former officers are released because as tourists they provide economic benefits to the villagers.

Bjorneboe makes surrealistic use of this situation to examine the dynamics of economic globalization in a way which hits even harder today than when the play first appeared. The Bird Lovers is a very interesting play, and in my opinion one that deserves much more attention than it has so far received.

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