Hunger by Knut Hamsun

Knut Hamsun’s novel Hunger is part of the foundation that 20th century fiction stands on. This Norwegian novel is a premonition of things to come in the shape of Jorge Luis Borges, Charles Bukowski, James Joyce, Franz Kafka, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and so on.

Was the poignant prose of Hunger what Jean Paul Sartre strived for? Albert Camus is Albert Camus but it is obvious that Hamsun is a literary relative of his, the difference being that while Camus ridicules Christianity, Hamsun does not.

Hunger is also and without a doubt one of the great achievements in the history of publishing, for the book, first released in Denmark in 1890, is incredibly feisty and way ahead of its time. It took some gut to send it off to the printer. The novel is gritty and grim, inner turmoil rules, the world is absurd and unpleasant, the logic bizarre, and humankind has no forgiving traits. Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground may come to mind, but Hamsun’s world is much harsher. Sure, it’s funny too – in a way.

Strangely enough, Hamsun was a favorite of Adolf Hitler and the German elite of that era. It is hard to imagine why this group of people was attracted to the author who produced this unsettling novel. Perhaps it was the story’s dealings with the bohemian life that fascinated them (quite a few of the Third Reich’s top names had tasted the life of the poor artist – Hitler included).

Hamsun’s dealings with Nazi Germany is a long and dark chapter in the life of the man who was known as “the soul of Norway.” He was – to put it mildly – “on the wrong side of history.” He wasn’t just a friend of Germany and German culture: he specifically hailed the Nazi movement both before World War II and after the Nazi occupation of Norway. He sent his Nobel medal to Joseph Goebbels and called Hitler “a prophet of the gospel of justice for all nations.” After the war, Norway decided that their great author must have been insane during this period, but his mentally vital response to this notion suggests otherwise. Obviously, a great author does not have to be a P.C. person, and Hamsun’s impact on world literature cannot be denied.

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