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Wednesday, March 04, 2015

An Overlooked Classic: Hunger

My favorite often-overlooked classic is Hunger by Knut Hamsun. First published in Norway in 1890, this short psychological novel has a surprisingly modern tone. Told in first-person, it is the inner monologue of a starving writer trying to survive in the fictitious city of Kristiana, Norway (probably based on Oslo). Fairfax County Public Library owns the Sverre Lyngstad translation of the book. The Lyngstad translation is said to be more accurate than older translations but doesn't have the same flow, in my opinion. I prefer the Bly translation, which I find more poetic.

The narrator’s “voice” is impacted by his hunger, which begins to affect his behavior and thought-patterns, with bursts of hopefulness sliding into paranoia and despair. We see him selling off the last of his meager belongings at the pawnshop, falling in love and trying to write pieces to sell to the newspaper. All the while he is struggling to buy enough food, keep a roof over his head and cling to his sanity. Yet he maintains his dignity, refusing charity and attempting to share what little he has with others he perceives as less fortunate. It might be difficult to read if not for the dark humor in some of his bizarre musings and the spare style which keeps it moving along. It does end on a hopeful note.

Hamsun won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1920 but primarily for Growth of the Soil, a later work which was more acclaimed in its time. 

-Suzanne Summers LaPierre, Kings Park Library

Interested in joining a book club that discusses classic works of literature? Both Richard Byrd Library and Patrick Henry Library host classics book clubs. 
Contact those branches for more information.

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