Books on Monday – Knut Hamsun

Two books by Norwegian author Knut Hamsun

Knut Hamsun (August 4, 1859 – February 19, 1952) was a major Norwegian writer, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1920. Hamsun’s work spans more than 70 years and shows variation with regard to the subject, perspective and environment. He published more than 20 novels, a collection of poetry, some short stories and plays, a travelogue, and some essays (Wikipedia).

Growth of the Soil
Growth of the soil (Norwegian Markens Grøde), is a novel by Knut Hamsun which won him the Nobel Prize in Literature. It follows the story of a man who settles and lives in rural Norway. First published in 1917, the novel was written in the popular style of Norwegian new realism, a movement dominating the early 20th century. The novel exemplified Hamsun’s aversion to modernity and inclination towards primitivism and the agrarian lifestyle. The novel employed literary techniques new to the time such as stream of consciousness. Hamsun tended to stress the relationship between his characters and the natural environment. Growth of the Soil portrays the protagonist (Isak) and his family as awed by modernity, yet at times, they come into conflict with it.

The peasant characters are simply trying to live life in the Norwegian backcountry and learn to face tragedy and evil, without experiencing absolute disaster. Thanks in part to a simplistic writing style and calm, almost detached third-person point-of-view, Hamsun blends misery and misfortune with tenderness, wisdom, and even humor. Readers come to learn from and identify with the fortitude, principals, and inner strength of these souls throughout their epic tale of early settler life.

The novel contains two sections entitled Book One and Book Two. The first book focuses almost solely on the story of Isak and his family and the second book starts off by following the plight of Axel and ends mainly focusing on Isak’s family.

Hunger

Hunger (Norwegian:Sult) is a novel by the Norwegian author Knut Hamsun published in 1890. Parts of it had been published anonymously in the Danish magazine Ny Jord in 1888. The novel has been hailed as the literary opening of the 20th century and an outstanding example of modern, psychology-driven literature. Hunger portrays the irrationality of the human mind in an intriguing and sometimes humorous manner.

“I suffered no pain, my hunger had taken the edge off; instead I felt pleasantly empty, untouched by everything around me and happy to be unseen by all. I put my legs up on the bench and leaned back, the best way to feel the true well-being of seclusion. There wasn’t a cloud in my mind, nor did I feel any discomfort, and I hadn’t a single unfulfilled desire or craving as far as my thought could reach. I lay with open eyes in a state of utter absence from myself and felt deliciously out of it.”

Written after Hamsun’s return from an ill-fated tour of America, Hunger is loosely based on the author’s own impoverished life before his breakthrough in 1890. Set in late 19th-century Kristiania (Oslo), the novel recounts the adventures of a starving young man whose sense of reality is giving way to a delusionary existence on the darker side of a modern metropolis. While he vainly tries to maintain an outer shell of respectability, his mental and physical decay are recounted in detail. His ordeal, enhanced by his inability or unwillingness to pursue a professional career, which he deems unfit for someone of his abilities, is pictured in a series of encounters which Hamsun himself described as ‘a series of analyses.

Having read both books I would say that The growth of the soil is a very entertaining book with likeable characters. Hunger is a very interesting account of this suffring authors life. It certainly gives food for the thought.

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