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Tarjei Vesaas: Kimen (The Seed)

This powerful and important novel from Vesaas is about violence and collective guilt versus individual guilt. Vesaas quickly sets the scene, showing us two sows feeding their young together and then suddenly brutally turning on one another, eventually driving one another to their respective deaths. At the same time, a young man, Andreas West, arrives on this small island, whose livelihood is mainly farming. West apparently worked in a factory where there had been a large explosion. Though he had escaped without any physical damage, the death and destruction had had a profound psychological effect on him. He is unsure of what he will do there, knowing only that he needs to escape and find peace and quiet. However, he is surprised by Inga, sister of Rolf Lee and daughter of Karl and Mari, owners of Lee farm. For no apparent reason, he kills her. The island is small and Rolf and others soon hunt him down and kill him. While it is Rolf that inflicts the fatal blow, others join in and are clearly involved.

The rest of this small novel is about the guilt that all must bear for this deed. At first, everyone is eager to attribute blame to Rolf who, after all, inflicted the fatal blow. Then the islanders congregate at Lee farm to hear what Karl will say about the matter. Karl was not present at the killing but feels some guilt for the actions of his son. Ultimately it is Rolf that is to bear the blame, as it is he who will be arrested and taken off by the police (there are no police on the island). But everyone knows that all of them are to blame and they are all at a loss to understand how this deed happened. As Vesaas makes very clear, their behaviour is barely above that of the sows.

This a first-class novel about violence and guilt and should be better known in the English-speaking world. Vesaas tells a very powerful and demanding story in a relatively short space. He adds two standard sets of characters – Hill and Dale, the Vladmir and Estragon characters (but also the Greek chorus), who comment on the deaths and carry off the corpses and Kari Ness, the Cassandra-like widow – who broaden the perspective by both commenting on the action and moving it along. But it is ultimately the community who is the main character and the one that must take the blame.

Publishing history

First published 1958 by Gylendal
First published in English in 1964 by the American-Scandinavian Foundation
Translated by Kenneth G. Chapman