Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Knut Hamsun. Hunger. New York: Noonday Press, 1967. Originally published in Norwegian in 1890.

R. Stuhr

According to the Isaac Bashevis Singer's introduction to this translation (by none other than Robert Bly), Hamsun is the father of modernism, won the Nobel Prize in 1920, and sadly, was a dupe, and therefore a pariah in his own country, to Hitler. The friend who recommended this book to me told me he was a Nazi, and through the entire novel (I read the introduction last) I kept thinking, that my friend had mispoke on that detail. But Singer lays it out unambiguously. Singer writes, "The Knut Hamsun who had kept aloof of the masses and social reformers allowed himself to be taken in by Nazi demagogues. It was a sad day for many of Hamsun's followers when a picture of him greeting Hitler appeared in the newspapers. In it, Hamsun's face reflects shame, while Hitler looks at him mockingly....Following Hitler's defeat, Hamsun's sons were imprisoned."

Singer considers Hunger to be one of Hamsun's four best novels along with Mysteries (1892), Editor Lynge (1893), and Pan (1894). Hunger takes place completely in the mind of the main character who is an impoverished writer living in Christiania, Norway. From time to time he looks for a job, but he makes what living he does make through writing. Hamsun's character is nearly insane from malnourishment and want, but always conscious of his wild compulsive behavior. Despite his tenuous grasp on life and sanity, he continues to try to write. When he knows he is at his limit, money suddenly materializes in some way, but it never lasts long and it is never enough to restore him to health. The book ends abruptly when the writer convinces a ship captain to take him on board to work.

After all the pain and desperation, wildness and compulsiveness, Hamsun's character is overjoyed at the prospect of the ship and not bitter about his days of poverty in the streets of Christiania. He ends the novel, "So he gave me a job to do ...When we were out on the fjord, I straightened up, wet from fever and exertion, looked in toward the land and said goodbye for now to the city, to Christiania, where the windows of the homes all shone with such brightness."

Burling 3rd Floor PT 8950 .H3 S813x 1967

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