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Hunger by Knut Hamsun

Hunger (original 1890; edition 2012)

by Knut Hamsun

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2,842682,046 (4.08)1 / 155
Authors:Knut Hamsun
Info:CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (2012), Paperback, 130 pages
Collections:Your library

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Hunger by Knut Hamsun (1890)

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Showing 1-5 of 61 (next | show all)
Original post at Book Rhapsody.


Probably the book that best describes me

I really can’t help raving about this. I always thank my lucky stars for that day when I bought this at a secondhand book store without intending to. It must be the universe conspiring with the forces; the book spine stared straight into my eyes. I couldn’t resist; I felt a sense of literary power emanating from the book.

It was during that time when I’d just randomly pick a book. After reading this, my impulses were justified. This book became my sort of bible. Not really that, but close. Or maybe it’s more appropriate to say that this book best describes me. There even is something clownish about that statement; I’m a skinny guy and is there any book title that could be more befitting than Hunger?

I feel a strong attachment to this like the way a lot of people hold on to their copies of The Catcher in the Rye. I am well-acquainted with at least two. As much as I’d like to lend my copy to my favorite people and force them to immediately read it altogether, I cannot part with it so long. So I resorted to buying stray copies at sale bins and giving them away. I already gave the blogger of Dark Chest of Wonders a trade paperback. I even think I was able to make two people buy their own copies at regular book stores.

Why am I doing this? Check out this passage snatched out of my dead Tumblr blog:

What actually was I waiting for? I had run around the whole day after one krone in order to stay alive a few more hours. What was the difference, really, if what was inevitable happened one day earlier or one day later? If I had been behaving like a reasonable man, I would have gone home and lain down quietly a long time ago, just given up. For an instant my brain was utterly clear. I was going to die; fall had come and everything was ready to hibernate. I had tried every way out, used every possible means I knew of. I hugged that idea with sentimentality and every time I thought hopefully of a possible way out, I whispered, nay-saying: "You fool, you, your whole body has started to die!" What I should do is to write a few letters, get everything ready, and have myself prepared. I would get myself clean, and make my bed; I would lay my head on my pile of writing paper, the purest thing I had left, and I could put the green blanket...

Did I just make a point of shoving a book about a psychologically challenged man who is both maintaining a stance of social respectability and self-destructing at the same time? In essence, this novel speaks of transcendence through hunger. Hence, the title.

It is the bittersweet tale of an unnamed man prowling the streets of Oslo, formerly Christiania. There are a lot of funny things on the surface, but if the reader mulls over the psychological misadventures, he will realize that this is a harrowing, depressing tale of self-preservation despite the nuisances of the mind. The narrator has potential; he does freelance writing, he could work full time and earn a decent living if he could just maintain his bouts of intellectual lucidity, but more often than not, these are as fleeting as our thoughts.

Which is reasonable, if you ask me. Our thoughts are like midnight trains that make the bridges of our minds tremble with such power, and we fail to feel the trembling just because our half-asleep state renders us incapable of doing so. And once the smoke is all that’s left to see, our thoughts have already escaped us, numbing our minds that are screaming of want. Like our thoughts are never really our own.

The book also speaks of pantheism. Theological readers might view some of the passages as sheer blasphemy. God is treated here like some snooty government official wherein the civilian has to kiss-ass to get things done. It’s both funny and existential, reading about the narrator having a conversation with God, which is on the surface having a conversation with one’s self.

We might not really understand why a random man would start stamping a bowler hat on the middle of the road or scream and laugh at cabbages and declare that they are not cabbages. This could be a sign of borderline personality. Just imagine the strangeness of it if ever you encounter one man. We might make sense out of this action if we are given a hint on what’s going on his head.

And that’s where the reader takes a tour. As much as I would like to talk more about chewing wood or more about the perilously elemental thoughts that flicker inside the head of a severely hungry person, I’d stop now. I was sort of berated for spoiling the former detail. Really, I didn’t find it the least troubling to tell a random person that the narrator does this because I didn’t say why he does it. The would-be reader has to find out the reasons behind the things that he do.

And why does he invent a name for a woman who already has a name? Why does he force this name on her? Why does he invent seemingly useless words? Why does he hold on to things that aren’t worth a krone? Why does he think that he can do better? And ultimately, why does he, an educated middle-class man, choose to starve himself to near death?

I’ve never gone on hunger strikes or deprived myself of food. I even indulge myself at times with expensive food just because I can. Despite these, I declare that this book is me. Reading this is like rummaging through the clutters of my head.

If you want to know, I sometimes catch myself talking out loud, mostly having a conversation with a friend, like practicing lines for a movie. Or acting out childish tantrums, complete with the petulant whine of a toddler. I haven’t a bowler to stamp on, but I do stamp. One time on the middle of the road. So yes, I feel like I am that unnamed narrator.

But the hunger thing that he does, I don’t know. I am actually hungry now; it’s past lunch time as of this writing. But I’ll deal with the hunger for at least an hour more. ( )
  angusmiranda | Jun 10, 2014 |
Hamsun deftly portrays the irrationality of the human mind assailed by hunger in a unique and often amusing manner. The narrator's psychological state is very well-developed and Hamsun's prose brings to life the intricacies of the human mind; Hamsun also portrays Oslo (then called Kristiana) in a realist manner.

Similar to Crime and Punishment (since Fyodor Dostoevsky was one of Hamsun's main influences), Hunger is an expert piece of psychological drama and an excellent introduction to Hamsun's work.

This particular edition also had an appendix by the translator (Sverre Lyngstad) on the troubles translating Hunger into English, which was particularly informative since Hamsun is a troublesome author to translate accurately owing to his expansive vocabulary and expressive style. ( )
  xuebi | May 30, 2014 |
Unnamed and unidentified, a writer wanders a Norway city, starving and slowly losing his grip on reality.

[Hunger], published in 1890, is an early modern work, focused on the inner workings of the narrators mind while engaged in both rational and irrational thought. While the events of the writer’s life are imminently real, they are filtered through the starvation-altered perceptions of the writer. The hunger described by Hamsun goes beyond the need for food – it describes the writer’s obsession for his chosen art and for a connection with those around him, all things that are ultimately beyond his reach.

While modern literature is not a favorite of mine, [Hunger] was an interesting exercise. The break with reality is not near that of, say, [Naked Lunch] or something along those lines. And perhaps the tenuous connection to reality kept me involved. Or perhaps it was that the writer’s loss of connection was a function of starvation instead of drug-induced. But whatever the reason, [Hunger] was more palatable.

Bottom Line: A narrative of the modern ilk, focused on the psychological inner workings of a man losing his grip on reality.

3 bones!!!!! ( )
  blackdogbooks | Mar 30, 2014 |
I probably didn't read this closely enough to say anything particularly intelligent about it. It has no plot, no character development, and very little in the way of logical organization of any kind. This is all clearly intentional: a literary polemic against the three volume novel that proceeds in a stately manner towards marriage or death. So if you've only ever read Victorian era novels, you'll probably be greatly shocked at this. If you've read anything else, you won't be.
More interesting than the differences between this and, say, Great Expectations are the differences between this and all the stuff everyone compares it to: twentieth century absurdist or existentialist fiction. The translator of this edition says that the protagonist experiences Heidegger's 'authentic being towards death'. Uh... claptrap. What's fascinating about this book is that, unlike the quasi-Heideggerian anti-heroes of Camus etc, the hungry man is deeply, deeply moral. The translator suggests that this generosity is just a 'temperamental tic'. It seems to me to be much more than that, though. Here is a man who, although starving to death, is willing to give away any money he actually gets his hands on to others, simply out of compassion. He suffers for those who are beaten down even when he's the most beaten down of the lot. He's essentially a saintly aristocratic romantic artist, without the income that let most saints, aristocrats and romantic artists swan around the world doing their thing. If he's crazy, it's a good madness. If he's sane, he's a genuine moral hero, despite his occasional peccadilloes. I suspect the best comparison might be to ancient cynics who embraced poverty and lived disgusting lives as a mockery of social norms. Except this modern cynic is aware that social norms are all we've got: he just lives up to the ideals his society produced, while the society itself goes on whoring, materialistic and angry. ( )
1 vote stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
The frenetic story of a young man down on his luck, starving, near homeless, freezing, manic. This is Raskolnikov minus malice, by all accounts a vital stepping stone in the development of modern literature.

I just didn't love it.

Now if I had read this around the same age I was when I read Crime and Punishment, I probably would have loved it, but maybe the romance without finance is a nuisance, to quote a line by Tiny Grimes. The writing is good, compelling even, and the narrator demands both sympathy and revulsion at times, and his exploits both tragic and harrowing.

I just didn't love it. ( )
  wjmcomposer | Oct 1, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (66 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Knut Hamsunprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Auster, PaulIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lyngstad, SverreTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Marken, Amy vanAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Polet, CoraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Worster, W. W.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Hunger ( [2001]IMDb)
Sult (1966IMDb)
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It was in those days when I wandered about hungry in Kristiania, that strange city which no one leaves before it has set his mark upon him. . .
Det var i den tid jeg gikk omkring og sultet i Kristiania, denne forunderlige by som ingen forlater før han har fått merker av den ....
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Norwegian title: Sult
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0486431681, Paperback)

This powerful, autobiographical novel by a Nobel Prize-winning author made literary history when it was first published in 1890. A modern classic about a penniless, unemployed young writer, the book paints an unforgettable portrait of a man driven to the edge of self-destruction by forces beyond his control.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:51:42 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

"Originally published in 1890, this classic of modern literature follows an impoverished Norwegian writer through the streets of Christiania (now Oslo) as he struggles on the edge of starvation. Existing on what little money he makes from selling the occasional article to the local paper, and down to pawning the clothes on his back, the young writer slowly loses control of his reason and begins to slip increasingly into bouts of madness, paranoia, and despair."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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