Growth of the Soil by Knut Hamsun

Growth of the Soil by Knut Hamsun

Beware the distractions of the internet! I sat down two hours ago to write this review and promptly discovered Pandora which is an impressive tool from the Music Genome Project. It’s downright eerie how well it guesses what I’ll like. Sadly, they don’t have any classical or “world” music and I was just about to give up when started finding some great old jazz. Hurray! Adding Leonard Cohen and Josh Ritter has produced some interesting results and I’ve actually discovered some great new music. This thing really works!

Then, I happened upon this entertaining article in the Globe called “No books? The terrorists have won” ( Need a password ? )

Then, I started rooting around in one of my favorite sources for fabulous articles: mirabilis. There went another hour spent in wonderfully interesting reads.

Okay, I’m back and I will write this.

I seem to have a bit of a thing for Norwegian writers and now I can add Hamsun to the list. I read this on vacation, which I heartily recommend. It’s not a book I could read dashing between jobs on public transit. And that, to me, is only right: the book draws you into a world so utterly different from ours. There are a lot of differences, but the biggest is how people move through time. This is a slow, thoughtful, eerily beautiful book that you can’t stop reading.

Details of Knut Hamsun’s life are variously reported. The Encyclop√¶dia Britannica claims he began writing “at the age of 19, when he was a shoemaker’s apprentice”. Other sources (i.e.: the Nobel Prize people!) say he was “an apprentice to a ropemaker” which I admit I prefer — talk about a lost art! And of course, the internet has its share of gossip, claiming that “Following a meeting with Joseph Goebbels in 1943, he [Hamsun] sent Goebbels his Nobel Prize medal as a gift.” Britannica is ominously silent on this one and I don’t have access to a library, so I can’t tell you if there’s anything to it. But it’s the old argument of the artist vs. the man. So, on to the artist.

Here’s an excerpt from an article of his:

“Language must resound with all the harmonies of music. The writer must always, at all times, find the tremulous word which captures the thing and is able to draw a sob from my soul by its very rightness. A word can be transformed into a colour, light, a smell. It is the writer’s task to use it in such a way that it serves, never fails, can never be ignored. The writer must be able to revel and roll in the abundance of words. He must know not only the direct but also the secret power of a word. There are overtones and undertones to a word, and lateral echoes, too.”

I wish I could read him in the original, but his writing comes through as utterly unique even in translation. If you want to read more about him, here’s an excellent article from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

I’m certainly looking forward to reading more by him.


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