The Birds tells the story of Mattis, a slow, profoundly sensitive young man living in a small house in the Norwegian countryside with his sister Hege. Eking out a modest living knitting sweaters, Hege encourages her brother to find work to ease their financial burdens, but his attempts come to nothing. When he finally sets himself up as a ferryman, the only passenger he manages to bring across the lake is a lumberjack, Jørgen. But when Jørgen and Hege become lovers, Mattis finds the safety of his familial life threatened and his jealousy quickly spirals. In The Birds, Norway’s most celebrated writer of the twentieth century allows us to rediscover the world. By turns frightening, beautiful, confounding, and full of mystery, it is a world we come to see more vividly through Mattis’s eyes.
Tarjei Vesaas has written the best Norwegian novel ever, “The Birds” — it is absolutely wonderful, the prose is so simple and so subtle, and the story is so moving that it would have been counted amongst the great classics from the last century if it had been written in one of the major languages.
— Karl Ove Knausgaard
The careful translation from the Norwegian underscores Vesaas's rare sensitivity in recording Mattis's often insightful view of his world... A literary gem.
— Publisher's Weekly
Although the author was born 1897, his books are far from old-fashioned and traditional... Tarjei Vesaas become a classic ... This novel gave me particular pleasure.
— Doris Lessing
Tarjei Vesaas is the best and most interesting Norwegian writer after the Second World War. His language is so sensitive, so open to his characters' minds and the landscapes they inhabit, that it gives form to that space between – between people and other people, between people and nature – the space where our lives unfold.
— Karl Ove Knausgaard
Haunting tragedy in a Bergman landscape.
— Kirkus Reviews
— Literary Review
Mattis, the protagonist of … The Birds, surely deserves a place among the cadre of unforgettable characters in modern literature… Vesaas’s prose, spare and straightforward, soars with a poignancy of feeling… Mattis’s disability is the pivot upon which the novel unfolds and also serves to amplify the ways that “normal” people, too, are “handicapped.” Vesaas allows us see that without Mattis’s sensitivity, perceptivity, and honesty, we, too, are impaired, limited from living a full life.
— Lori Feathers, World Literature Today
The inexplicable thoughts that recur to Mattis will do so to readers as well, long after the book has ended.
— Hannah Sheldon-Dean, Bookslut
An under-appreciated work of genius.
— The National Book Review
In this new translation by Michael Barnes and Torbjørn Støverud, the simpleton's life comes through as actually quite profound.
— Douglas Messerli, Rain Taxi Review