The fishermen and their families have bought rights to fish for eel in the fjord, they've rented small houses and they are all looking forward to a somewhat easier life than what they led when they were living by the rough Northern Sea. The families are, with a few exceptions, very religious, belonging to a certain branch of Christianity called The Inner Mission. (Please read more about Inner Mission here if you are interested in more info on this movement, for which I don't care an awful lot).
Two of the major themes of the book are religion and sin.
We follow several familie, among the the most religious one of the group Thomas Jensen and his family, the non-inner mission Povl Vrist and his wife Mariane with the big heart, the bachelor Anton Knopper who has to fight his sinful urges all the time and the gossipy but holier-than-thou Tea and her family.
We also meet the town-people who lived there before the fishermen and their families arrived: the old religious teacher Mr. Aaby, the well-read but somewhat annoying tax-man Kock, the inn-keeper Mr. Mogensen and the mild and friendly priest, whose religious outlook is not strict enough for the fishermen and their families, so they more or less chase him out of the town and employ an inner-missionary priest instead.
The story continues over several years. Winter is followed by spring, summer by fall and specially fall is an important season. This is where the fishermen put out their eel-traps (I'm sorry, I am simply not familiar with the English words for all those words about fishing-gear) and earn most money. God willing, that is. It is a rough life to be a fisherman. No doubt about that. Between working on the fjord fishing, the families read the bible, go to church and fight sin (which among other things include fighting against the hotel, where the town's youth dance each Saturday). Last but not least, everyone tries to fight his or her inner demons, which show themselves often because of the strict laws of the Inner Mission religion.
Its impossible to talk about all persons in this book, but if I should mention one, it will have to be Tea Roen. Tea is a curious woman, she loves to gossip and she is the first to tell others if she feels that they have sinned or done things which Jesus might not have approved of. At the same time she knows that she must deal with her own sins each day, but she also feels that she has found her way and in many scenes in the book, she acts in an annoying holier-than-thou way. As a reader you can sense that at some point, she is going to taste her own medicine
I have read The Fishermen a couple of times now and it is one of the most interesting social-realism novels in Denmark. I understand how it can be hellish to get through when you are young and in highschool. Lots of things and themes in the books seem utterly irrelevant in 2009. And there is not much action going on with a group of poor fishermen from the first half of the last century. Also, it helps if you know more about the world back then, and I personally know lots more about that than I did when I was in highschool. Nevertheless, The Fishermen is a main work, which every Danish pupil in high school (and later levels) are supposed to know. The Fishermen has been translated to English, but I haven't been able to find an image of the English cover or an English bio for the author, Hans Kirk. The Fishermen was made into a tv-series on Danish tv in the late 1970'es. I haven't watched it.