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Saturday, July 14, 2018

Hunger (1890) by Knut Hamsun


Book Review
Hunger (1890)
by Knut Hamsun

  The creation  Nobel Prize in Literature  in 1901 was a stroke of genius on behalf of the non-English languages of world literature.  The Swedes managed to create the world's foremost literary prize independent of the English speaking world, and that decision has played no small part in attempts to avoid the utter domination of world literature by English speaking and writing authors.  It also means that there are dozens of Nobel Prize in Literature winners who are almost unknown at the time they win the award, with English language translations that may be under distributed or non-existent.

  Today, a Nobel Prize in Literature by a non-English language author is a sure signal that those books that either haven't been translated or well distributed in English will now be so, and that an Audience for those books will be waiting.   I'm bringing this up because Knut Hamsun is one of the non-English language early winners who have avoided neglect.  Although it was his epic, Growth of the Soil that was seen as the key event prior to him winning the Nobel Prize in Literature, modern English language audiences inevitably have only read Hunger, which is his most well known and book and one that places in squarely in the proto-Existentialist literary world alongside Dostoyevsky and J.K Huysmens.

  In fact, Hamsun's self-abusing protagonist bears many similarities to Raskolnikov, the anti-hero of Crime and PunishmentCrime and Punishment was published nearly thirty years prior to Hunger, and I found myself wondering whether Hamsun was familiar.  Hunger is a must for the would-be existentialists, short and to the point, it avoids many of the excesses of 19th century literature, and it isn't hard to imagine Hunger being published today, or at least in the 20th century.

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