Among the writers who most astutely characterized the morality of the 20th century, none may have been more accurate than the Norwegian novelist, essayist and playwright Jens Bjorneboe. His was a powerful voice of truth, and we need now, more than ever, to listen to it.

By the time I met Bjorneboe at his Oslo home in December 1974, he was being hailed as Norway's greatest living writer, and his latest novel, "The Sharks," was a best-seller there. The book tells a classic adventure story set on a ship out of hell, one on which every abomination ever known to have occurred is repeated in many forms. The ship is a microcosm of cruelty, pain and intolerance. And yet it is lyrical as well: "The ship moving slowly below him, the sea his bride at night."

Norway is a country in which the sea always looms large and, it has been said, there is either a missionary or a sailor in every family.