43 of 52 people found the following review helpful
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This translation is absolute garbage. Hamsun's rich language and unforgettable style have been washed away to make for an easier read. Nuances are erased and sentences made bland, time is distorted -- readers ignorant of the original are being robbed. This, like the Sverre Lyngstad translation, is a disgrace. I could translate better than this myself. Here's an example of his butchering, not chosen for being particularly bad; it is just a paragraph on the first page.
"I was lying awake in my attic room; a clock struck six somewhere below; it was fairly light already and people were beginning to move up and down the stairs. Over near the door, where my wall was papered with old issues of the Morning Times, I could make out a message from the Chief of Lighthouses, and just to the left of that an advertisement for fresh bread, showing a big, fat loaf: Fabian Olsen's bakery."
Here is the original (modernized spelling, and "at" written as "å"):
Jeg ligger våken på min kvist og hører en klokke nedenunder meg slå seks slag; det var allerede ganske lyst og folk begynte å ferdes opp og ned i trappene. Nede ved døren hvor mitt rom var tapetsert med gamle numre av Morgenbladet kunne jeg så tydelig se en bekjentgjørelse fra Fyrdirektøren, og litt tilvenstre derfra et fett, bugnende avertissement fra baker Fabian Olsen om nybakt brød.
I realize that to those of you -- a majority no doubt -- who do not know any Norwegian, it will be difficult to trust any alternative translation I provide. Nonetheless I will make the attempt, sticking very closely to the original. The purpose is not to provide a pleasant read, but to illustrate the gap between what Hamsun wrote and the translation you're being served.
I lie awake in my attic room and hear a clock down below me strike six; it was already quite bright and people were beginning* to wander up and down the stairs. Down by the door where my room was papered with old issues of "Morgenbladet", I could very clearly see** a notice from the Lighthouse Director, and slightly left therefrom a grand***, bulging advertisement from baker Fabian Olsen about new-baked bread.
*direct translation: began
**"kunne jeg så tydelig se" literally means "I could so clearly see", but the translation doesn't do what the Norwegian does. There's almost something paranoid about it, something highly aware. You immediately start conjuring images of the protagonist gazing suspiciously at the advertisement. Reading the words with the right voice goes along way, but it doesn't happen automatically like it does in Norwegian.
***literally: fat, greasy -- suffice to say that grand is not ideal
All in all, the number of faults in this quite randomly selected paragraph are many. First of all, "was lying awake" is just plain wrong use of time. It happens in present tense. He *heard* the clock strike six, it was not merely something that happened. The clock certainly did not strike six *somewhere* -- he took that out of nowhere. The first semi-colon is arbitrary and out of place. The door is down below, something the translation doesn't bother telling you. A "bekjentgjørelse" is certainly not just a message, but more like an announcement that makes its readers familiar with something. Notice is the closest I could think of. "Ferdes" only means "move" in the same way fare, travel, wander, walk and stroll means move. As for the picture of a big fat loaf on the advertisement, the translator made that up himself.
I repeat that this was an almost randomly selected passage. God knows what a more careful read might reveal.
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
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Knut Hamsun's *Hunger* is a powerful study of a man too intelligent and too sensitive for his own good--or anyone else's for that matter. He's a younger version of Dostoyevsky's "underground man" driven by Poe's "imp of the perverse." Living hand-to-mouth, always down to his last kroner, reeling dizzy from hunger, Hamsun's narrator, a freelance journalist and would-be litterateur, is part crank, part brilliant eccentric whose hypersensitivity and untimely observations of the shortcomings of human nature seem to insure his failure among the society he loathes.
The victim as well as the author of his own misfortunes, the hero--properly speaking, the anti-hero--of *Hunger* can't even stumble into good fortune without somehow sabotaging himself. He pushes himself to indulge in the most offensive and inappropriate public behavior so compulsively you begin to wonder if he isn't insane, especially inasmuch as he often engages himself in conversation and goads himself to self-destruction as if he were really talking to and arguing with another person altogether. He even manages to spoil the beginnings of a most improbable love-affair with a woman who finds herself intrigued by such a strange and haunted man.
Is his poverty, his periodic homelessness, his ever-present hunger a consequence of his schizoid behavior or is his schizoid behavior a consequence of his hunger, grinding poverty, and brutal degradation at the hands of a society that doesn't recognize the geniuses among it? The question is left open to debate and that's one of the things that makes *Hunger* such an endlessly compelling novel.
By articulating such questions and outlining the contours of alienation, Hamsun paints a bleak landscape where genius struggles between mediocrity and madness and where each of us is not much more than a ham sandwich away from being swallowed up by utter destitution.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
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I picked up Hunger because I am a fan of Charles Bukowski's writing, and he mentions several times in his works that Knut Hamsun is his favorite author. After finishing Hunger, I understand why - its main character is very real, intensely psychological, living through what he must, learning what he has to learn to heal some broken part of himself. I now realize Bukowski took these themes for his work and made them his own. In the excellent afterword to this edition (must reading), Robert Bly says "...Hunger is a cathedral. It is a cathedral because the whole novel is a resonating chamber for an unknown part of the personality." The central focus of Hunger is precisely what is not there - the part of the main character's personality that makes him do the things he does, the unconscious. Where do the impulses of the unconscious come from, and what do they say about us and about the times in which we live?
Written in 1890, Hunger was a new kind of novel for the 20th century, later influencing Hemingway, Saramago, Kafka, Camus, and many others. Hunger is not symbolic. The main character is really hungry as he wanders the streets of Christiana (Oslo) with little in his pockets but a pencil nub and a few sheets of paper on which to write another article he hopefully can sell to the newspaper for a few kroner. He goes for days without eating, writes feverishly, wanders the streets at all times of day and night, contemplates eating his own pockets, tries to pawn the buttons off his own coat, sells some articles, is OK for a while, and then starves again. At times the protagonist seems to lapse into insanity, giving what little he has away and seemingly subverting his own efforts. At other times he appears to be a genius. In the words of Samuel Beckett, this is a type of writing that "admits the chaos and does not try to say that the chaos is really something else."
Hunger's unnamed main character is drawn from Hamsun's own 10 years of being down and out on the streets of Christiana. Hamsun's character was new and shocking because he trusts and obeys the impulses of his unconscious with no judgment, hysteria, or self pity, in direct contradiction to the mainstream literature of the day. Robert Bly states that "there is a sense throughout the entire novel that his starvation was somehow planned by his unconscious - that somehow his unconscious has chosen suffering as a way for some part of him to get well." He goes on to say that "His obedience to the unconscious, even at the cost of physical suffering, is the right thing; it is the road of genius and learning."
In Hunger, we haunt the city streets with Hamsun, live in his mind, and never really leave. Highly recommended.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Mark M. Hladky
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Big thing I need to shove out of the way: Hamsun's politics were crap, but his book's pretty good. That was a big part of Singer's shtick. Get over old writers having terrible opinions.
I don't want to talk about what I've read in the other reviews. A big part of that desire comes from my disagreement with what the other reviews say. I'm not saying I'm "right." I'm only saying I disagree.
"Hunger" was an exciting book. It does not feel like complaining--as someone wrote. It does not feel like a manifesto about an outsider/genius. The character is flawed, and he is flawed in many ways. The afterward to this edition mentions the "naturalist" influences on Hamsun. Those naturalistic ideas about people appear frequently. Most of the people in "Hunger" are both disgusting and interesting, are actually more interesting than many of the Zola characters I'm familiar with.
Hamsun's techniques that propel the story along are simple, straightforward and very layered and interesting. The narrator walks frequently. It sounds silly, but it makes the reader feel like the story is always going somewhere. The narrator's vitriol is a condition of his refusal to find real work. The animosity he feels and describes is understandable and relateable. It may result from my presently attending college and my not having a job, but the story feels simple, remarkable, "true."
Much of the story has a dreamlike quality about it. Hamsun's "subjectivity" creates this feeling. When describing a nail hole in a wall, he writes that it did not seem like an innocent hole. When he describes objects, people, scenes, he focuses on impressions...
Every part of the book depicts hunger, emotion, frustration, accurately. The whole book reads like a chase scene in an action movie.
Thumbs up and that bit.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
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Time that with this strange excuse
Pardoned Kipling and his views
And will pardon Paul Claudel,
Pardons him for writing well.
Thus Auden ("In memory of WB Yeats").
Hamsun's hero in Hunger is restless,provocative,insolent,egotistical,given to swoops of joyful lyricism and the utmost humiliation and despair as he begs,borrows,starves,lies and cheats his way through his days in Kristiana in the late 19th century. His moods are always changing like the weather,laughing, shouting,talking to himself, crying, angry.His bouts of starvation empty and hollow him out,make him hallucinate,give him delusions of writing the next masterpiece,a refutation of Kant in 3 parts,which he doesn't do,but it gives his feverish mind a goal.The main poles of his existence are the Editor,his Landlord,the Baker and the Pawnshop.Not forgetting the policeman.
His lies become as truthful to him as the truth and he acts them out. God both exists for him to rail at, or doesn't exist. Andreas Tangen(we only learn his name half way through) most definitely does exist! He starves for the next crust of bread, while searching for work,he also starves for inspiration to write. He swings between pride and humility. His pride will not allow him to take money when he needs it, and makes him charitable when he can't afford it.He pawns the clothes off his back to give the money to another wretch.He perverts and distorts the Christian ethic, and, as in Doestoyevsky's Notes from the Underground,has hopes of gaining salvation through degradation and suffering.
His attention is seized by everything,riding on a chain of moods through the back streets of Kristiana,'flies and gnats stuck to the paper...I blew on them to make them go away,then blew harder and harder,but it was no use. The little pests lean back and make themselves heavy,putting up such a struggle that their thin legs bend.' He is given over to bouts of elation while writing. He sucks on stones when he is hungry. He wanders aimlessly in Hamsun's plotless novel,his poverty becomes a lodestone of wealthy perceptions.Every now and then the Editor takes pity and gives him money for an article,which lasts a few days,then the starvation all begins again.
Without the stub of a pencil he is lost.His clothes are thread-bare and shabby. He plays pranks on women to embarrass them.He has fun at other people's expense.He invents new words and new names. He is at one with animate and inanimate nature in her changing cycles.We do not get the sociology of hunger as in Orwell(`Down and Out in Paris and London') but we get the physiology and the effects on the unconscious. Tangen is an aristocrat of the spirit,grandiose and self-elevating. He moves and annoys us.This novel explores the dark nether regions of the human mind in its overture tothe 20th century.This masterpiece,the birth-pangs of a genius.Robert Bly's translation
is energetic and poetic,if not always technically accurate.