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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

Moment of Freedom

by
Jens Bjørneboe


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Moment of Freedom



Title: Moment of Freedom
Author: Jens Bjørneboe
Genre: Novel
Written: 1966 (Eng. 1975)
Length: 217 pages
Original in: Norwegian
Availability: Moment of Freedom - US
Moment of Freedom - UK
in The Moment of Freedom Trilogy - UK
Moment of Freedom - Canada
Der Augenblick der Freiheit - Deutschland
  • The Heiligenberg Manuscript
  • Norwegian title: Frihetens Øyeblikk
  • Translated by Esther Greenleaf Murer
  • Part of the History of Bestiality trilogy that consists of:
    1. Moment of Freedom
    2. Powderhouse
    3. The Silence

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Our Assessment:

A- : a dark, often compelling tour

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Christian Science Monitor . 1/8/1975 Roderick Nordel
Scandinavian Studies . Winter/2000 Jan Sjavik


  From the Reviews:
  • "Moment of Freedom marks a transition to an experimental form that serves as a vehicle for a personal artistic truth. That truth is unpleasant, as the narrator (...) chronicles most of the evils and injustices of Western civilization." - Jan Sjavik, Scandinavian Studies

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Moment of Freedom is an account by an anonymous narrator. No small part of the journey is a search for self, and elusive identity -- the question of "who I am" (in all its senses) -- one of the central motivating forces:

     Now if I could only remember my name ! Then I could find out who I was, who I am.
       He knows, to some extent, what he has become -- a Servant of Justice (something like a court clerk) in a city called Heiligenberg, in some tiny principality in an Alpine valley. He's "rounding out my forty-sixth year", and is an important enough figure to be modestly respected in the area. He's out in the hinterland, in the centre of Europe but a place that nevertheleSs seems more like an isolated corner of the continent: a place of exile, seclusion, and sanctuary, cut off from the rest of the world. But before he came here he saw it all, and it's those dark memories, of ugly times and places -- his "Long Journey in the Land of Chaos", as he styles it -- that he re-explores and confronts in order to come to some peace.
       The narrator is an angry man, the writing energetic, bold, and denunciatory. Moment of Freedom is a book of outrage, the narrator confronting the sick society all around him (even in Heiligenberg, in the supposed court of justice where he works).
       The narrator recalls much of his past. He wrote books, for example, and was apparently fairly successful -- but not in any meaningful way:
some won recognition and were translated into several languages, but which still had this singular characteristic in common that nothing they contained was particularly new or significant.
       They were written in the land of Chaos, and were children of the time. Like most other books which aren't about Socrates or by Lichtenberg or Stendhal or Stirner or La Rochefoucauld or by the ancient Romans or by Swift.
       Moment of Freedom is an account of a Dantesque journey through the hell of the Europe of his time. It is a lonelier, bleaker journey than even Dante's, as the narrator finds little of redeeming worth anywhere and sees humans only at their worst. He's an outsider, attracted to other outsiders (he rooms in brothels on his travels) -- the only ones who have done anything worthwhile and who might, in some way, be trustworthy, their criminality perhaps at worst petty (unlike the so-called pillars of society):
What on earth would our beloved, stinking, beautiful Europe have become without our dope fiends, drunkards, homosexuals, consumptives, madmen, syphilitics, bed-wetters, criminals, and epileptics ? Our whole culture was created by invalids, lunatics, and felons.
       There isn't one normal person who has done a useful or lasting thing: it was the normal ones who built the slave camps in both Germany and Russia.
       I know what I am talking about. To search for a meaning in this lemurian chaos is to look for a needle in a haystack.
       Nevertheless, he tries to make sense of it, reverting again to writing, creating this personal book, to be called: The History of Bestiality. And that's what this novel is, too. But Moment of Freedom is not a wallow in the worst excesses of the twentieth-century -- and that's perhaps why it is so successful: battlefield scenes and concentration camps are seen only from a great distance, though considerable historical perspective and commentary are offered. What the narrator lives through and relates is everyday life, on the periphery of what seem the most significant events and horrors -- and what he shows is that man's perfidy dominates even (or: especially) there.
       A love-hate relationship with all things Teutonic weighs on the narrator as well: "the thorn in my flesh; Teutonia is the cross I'm nailed to." Representing both the high (German culture and thought) and the abysmal lows (responsibility for, and the actions during, the two World Wars), the narrator sees the Germanic as being most representative of Europe -- and he knows (and worries) that he is very much a product of and a part of that particular culture.
       Still, it is elsewhere that he places "Europe's heart", in Florence. Living there, he is confronted by a longer tradition of culture and bestiality side by side. To the greatest (Leonardo, Dante) -- and many others -- he also ascribes "the Florentine laughter", a necessary way of looking at life:
     For no conscious person can live without this ability to laugh at cripples, disease, and suffering. To laugh at maltreated animals and children, to laugh at everything. Without the Florentine laughter one goes mad.
       Cackles of Florentine laughter resound throughout the book, but the narrator isn't as carefree as some: an edge of bitterness often surfaces, as he is unable (or unwilling) to laugh all this horror off. But he suffers for it too: he doesn't fall into true madness, but what he's seen has taken an enormous toll. There are memories even he can't dredge up (first and foremost among them his own name).
       It's an ugly world out there, and the narrator isn't certain how to approach it. Running away to take a menial job in an isolated town is one solution, but he can't simply cut himself off from what he's experienced and what he knows. he has to face it. Writing it -- which means admitting it -- might allow for that 'moment of freedom' of the title, but he's uneasy about it:
     Oh Lord, this ghastly fear of saying or writing the truth ! A lie can be corrected, it can be retracted, lied away -- it isn't final. The truth is definitive, a poison like opium and cocaine. Once tell the truth and there'll be no way back, no more contact, conviviality, community with people.
       Still not able to remember his own name, he claims:
     I'm not searching for a lost identity. Quite the contrary, I suffer from an excess of identity, from an ego which is as solid and massive as a boulder.
       But all this identity -- this awareness of being representative of humankind (a species nothing less than contemptible) -- is difficult for him to accept and handle.

       Moment of Freedom is a northern European novel of the 1960s, standing alongside other German and Scandinavian novels of that time, what promise (and fears) the post-war resurgence had held for fifteen or twenty now outweighed by a recognition that the horrors of the past can't be erased and that mankind is little better than it was when it caused such havoc. Bestiality did not come to an end: threats from the atomic bomb to the Viet Nam conflict are unmentioned in the novel, but very obviously in the air.
       The text isn't really dated -- and Jens Bjørneboe's vigorous style means it has remained very readable -- but it's not the sort of fiction one encounters much any more. Wide-ranging, allusive, dreamy and then naturalistic, Moment of Freedom is a roller-coaster ride of a read. It's not a pleasant text, and even the humour is jarring: it's extremely bitter, tempered only by the narrator's considerable self-doubt. It is a powerful, upsetting text, a convincing record by this torn man who has experienced so much and now withdrawn so completely (if unsuccessfully). It resembles novels by Thomas Bernhard and Peter Weiss -- and there's a touch of Kafka to it -- , but Bjørneboe has a far more urgent style.
       Moment of Freedom is ultimately too crude, not effectively enough shaped into a fiction (though the substance -- and the tone -- is there). But it is compelling, and often fascinating, a text that gives pause and makes the reader both think and feel.

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Links:

Moment of Freedom: Jens Bjørneboe: Other books by Jens Bjørneboe under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Jens Bjørneboe (1920-1976) was a leading Norwegian author.

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© 2004-2012 the complete review

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