Højsangen fra Palermovej

Højsangen fra Palermovej When Life Gives You Hippos

When Esther’s grandfather Hannibal purchases the house on Palermo Road on the Danish island of Amager in 1921, he envisions a home filled with opera, bohemians, and a love as intoxicating as the one outlined in the mighty Song of Salomon. But for his bride, the Russian contortionist Varinka, the age of miracles ended the moment she saw her first love disappear into the maws of a hippo. A hippo that, to add insult to injury, was supposed to have been an elephant, and the new star of her father’s circus.

Hannibal and Varinka’s daughter, the glamour-loving-and-possibly-psychic air stewardess Eva, finds a far more passionate love story when she falls for the Swedish pigeon-tamer Jan Gustav. Hannibal’s quest for love and artistry is then passed on to his grandchildren, the twins Esther and Olga, who both compete for the epithet of the young artist of the family. The twins’ older sister Filippa is meanwhile more preoccupied with becoming the first female cosmonaut, before illness claims her life.

When Life Gives You Hippos is a life-affirming and unforgettable novel about the pursuit of the Love of the Century. About enduring great loss and giving it another chance anyway. A saga told through the eyes of the timid painter Esther, When Life Gives You Hippos follows three generations living under the same roof, with touchdowns in the Parisian opera scene and the Circus Sowalskaja on the outskirts of St Petersburg.


Shortlisted for the Martha Award Denmark 2021
Shortlisted for the Mofibo Awards (Best Fiction) Denmark 2021
Shortlisted for BogForum’s Debut Award Denmark 2020
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  • “The first chapter in When Life Gives You Hippos is called ‘The Age of Miracles,’ and that introduction is no false promise. This headline actually applies to the entire novel; the way in which Annette Bjergfeldt paints her narrative out using colors, tones and emotions is utterly miraculous. /…/ It’s a well-paced tale, the trans-Amagerian railroad shoots through the decades at high speed, but When Life Gives You Hippos is, contrary to what one could think, not a Denmark-centric story. Instead, the novel is a portrayal of growing up in a microcosmos of complex personalities. Palermovej is a petri dish of human emotions and dreams, and through Esther, who loves to paint, Bjergfeldt portrays each and every one of the family members in such a vibrant and detailed way, the characters feel extremely alive. When Life Gives You Hippos is a tale about a happy childhood, but also a tale about grief and loss. It sees greatness in the small things, the beauty in all the faults and flaws that life presents. /…/ This is an impressive debut, and one cannot but rejoicefully look forward to more little miracles by Annette Bjergfeldt’s hand.”


    Politiken, Denmark

  • “In her debut novel, Annette Bjergfeldt pulls out all the stops and paints a swinging and charming Amagerian generational saga with bold strokes. /…/ There’s a melodious oomph to the text, that with light steps waltzes though all the tragedies, romances and comedy that life throws in the characters’ way. /…/ In style […] Bjergfeldt is reminiscent of Swedish role models such as Jonas Jonasson and Fredrik Backman. /…/ As a loud declaration of love to life in all its colors, When Life Gives You Hippos will make you want to sing its praise from the rooftops.”

    Jyllands-Posten, Denmark

  • “Annette Bjergfeldt is the master of words and this is a knockout of a debut. /…/ I went through the entire emotional spectrum while reading and had troubles putting it down. /…/ [When Life Gives You Hippos] remains steadily within me like an everlasting flower that grows more and more beautiful as time goes by.”


    Knirkes Bøger, Denmark

  • “Weaves together a fantastically delightful, inspirational and creatively motivational piece about life, happiness and love. /…/ The author has a brilliant imagination. /…/  All of [When Life Gives You Hippo’s] crazy digressions brings to mind John Irving and his authorship. /…/ Annette Bjergfeldt writes splendidly, one is left feeling incredibly entertained. /…/ The novel is uplifting, the language both dramatic and inventive – one becomes both happy and surprised at such innovative sentences – and all in all we’re talking about a renewal of Danish literature.”

    Bogsyn.dk, Denmark

  • “If you crave adventure, love and guidance on how to see the brighter side of life, make sure to read the scintillating, imaginative and quite simply fantastic When Life Gives You Hippos.”


    Femina, Denmark

  • Annette Bjergfeldt’s debut novel is an absolutely superb, wild, imaginative and well-written book about the pursuit of the greatest love. /…/ When Life Gives You Hippos is unruly, creative, hilarious, and at times utterly grotesque, while at the same time featuring everyday realism as well. /…/ Annette Bjergfeldt employs an incredibly graphic imagery, and has some rather genius observation on human life. It’s not a classical feel-good novel, but it’s been a long time since I last felt so good and laughed as much when I read a book. /…/ What a debut!

    Litteratursiden, Denmark

  • “There is a firework of imagination, a juggling with words and sentences and an utterly staggering story, that unfolds across the pages of Annette Bjergfelts debut novel. /…/ It’s undescribably funnily written, and Bjergfeldt’s play on words and sentences is an exquisite pleasure to read – and above that it’s an insanely funny and clever tale. A magnificent novel that sparkles with humor.”


    Søndag, Denmark

  • “With its gallery of characters, the very opposite of onedimensional actors, Annette Bjergfeldt has written a book that’s out of the ordinary, with an almost unbridled wealth of imagination.”


    Dagbladenes Bureau, Denmark

  • “[Annette Bjergfeldt] takes us on a wild ride through the generations. /…/ The way the language is used brings joy. /…/ Grandmother Varinka is an entirely unique character, to the extent that I’ve taken her motto to heart. Every time she hears someone tell of troubles and betrayals from others, it comes flying out of her mouth: Ignore the arsehole! /…/ Annette Bjergfeldt has some delightful expressions – she plays with the language. /…/ In the same way that Annette Bjergfeldt weaves her beautiful sentences together with all the characters’ misadventures, she also manages to interweave the gruesome story at the neighbours’ with her own very loving family’s everyday. It’s very nicely done. /…/ And am grateful for the great amounts of humor in the text.  I have laughed a lot, reading about these marvelous people so much like the rest of us. /…/ It’s a wonderful imaginative novel that Annette Bjergfeldt has written. With a touch of magic.”

    POV International, Denmark

  • [Bjergfeldt] writes her socks off in her beautiful, old-school debut novel. /…/ Even the most grey-speckled Amager day is granted streaks of color and lusciousness; dullness and boredom are transformed into small buds of effervescent life force, and triviality and monotony blossom into daisies and brightly colored perennials. That’s the way things are for the firstperson narrator in Annette Bjergfeldt’s stunning novel. The middle-aged, childless and timid painter Esther could be confused for a spinster, but beneath Annette Bjergfeldt’s pen strokes she and her family history unfold through flourishing language and plot-saturated blooms, such that one is overwhelmed by form, color and passionate storytelling. /…/ When Life Gives You Hippos is a charming and lifeaffirming generational tale, and the author [] surely and hopefully is one we will be reading more of. Annette Bjergfeldt’s writing style swells with life force and loud humor.

    Berlingske, Denmark

  • “[When Life Gives You Hippos] is wondrously great entertainment, and by the time it dawns on you that this entire adventure at its heart is about longing and love over the course of over 100 years, one is so immersed in this universe that it’s simply impossible to leave. Enjoy!”


    Spotlight Søndag, Denmark

  • “[Bjergfeldt] intertwines the history of Europe with a fantastic generational tale. /…/ The narrative rolls, curves and twists, making you hold on to your armchair with one hand and the book with the other.”


    Familie Journal, Denmark

  • When Life Gives You Hippos is such a playful, funny and entertaining debut novel that you can’t help but lose yourself in it. We had to laugh and swallow lumps in our throats at the same time from reading the powerful anecdotes inspiring memories of our own lost loves.”

    Feeling, Belgium

  • “[An] astonishing family tale. /…/ Bjergfeldt’s writing is crisp and witty, with many references to opera and literature.”

    NRC Handelsblad, Netherlands

  • “An equally hilarious and moving generational tale.”

    Margriet, Netherlands

  • “Many a situation unfolds that brings smiles and tears alike. /…/ With When Life Gives You Hippos [Annette Bjergfeldt] has written a beautiful epos about a rather special family. Both background histories and emotions are well portrayed by means of a poetic language, topped off with vital humour. /…/ The attention to art, literature and music is always a plus in my book (…). It’s that little extra mile that makes me a happy reader here. /…/ Annette Bjergfeldt positively surprised me with her debut. /…/ The Dutch translation is the first one out, in my opinion a great start to global success. Throughout the read of its 400-plus pages I thoroughly enjoyed this original, hilarious and fascinating family tale, that also gives a beautiful life lesson.”


    Perfecte Buren, Netherlands

  • “It is incredible to think that this is Annette Bjergfeldt’s first novel. (…) When Life Gives You Hippos is masterfully told. /…/ It didn’t take long before I was completely invested in this somewhat peculiar family. /…/ I thoroughly enjoyed When Life Gives You Hippos.

    Valeries Boekenwereld, Netherlands

  • “What a beautiful tale. /…/ The story also has a great deal of humour which adds to make it a very special and interesting read.”


    Wat Lees Ik, Netherlands

Photo: Leif Ascanius Sol Annette Bjergfeldt
  • Literary
Reading material

Danish edition

English translation

Rights sold

Albania, Shkupi

Arab World, Aser Al-Kotob

Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo Publishing

Bulgaria, Colibri

Croatia, Hena com

Czech Republic, Host

Denmark, Modtryk

Estonia, Rahva Raamat

Finland, Into Kustannus

France, JC Lattès

Macedonia, Matica

Netherlands, Signatuur

Poland, Swiat Ksiazki

Russia, Inspiria

Serbia, Laguna

Slovakia, Premedia

Sweden, Sekwa

Thailand, Biblio

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