Selected Knut Hamsun masterpieces
We have reviewed Hunger, Dreamers and Benoni and Rosa elsewhere. Here we present the other books that we view as among the best literary masterpieces written by Nobel Prize Winner Knut Hamsun. The books we have chosen are Mysteries, Pan, Children of the Age, and Segelfoss Town. They all rank highly in world literature.
Growth of the Soil, by Knut Hamsun.
(First published in 1917) Growth of the Soil is generally viewed as one of the main reasons why Hamsun was awarded the Nobel Prize.
“Growth of the Soil impresses me as among the very greatest novels I have ever read. It is wholly beautiful; it is saturated with wisdom and humor and tenderness.”
—H. G. Wells
“The whole modern school of fiction in the twentieth century stems from Hamsun.”
—Isaac Bashevis Singer
Isak Sellanrå, a man of few words and lots of action, walks into the woods, and makes his simple life happen, and the things that happen along the way are magical and beautiful, and full of hope and love and real life. He builds a home, finds a wife, and raises a family.
The book focuses on two interesting and attractive literary characters, Isak and Inger. Isak is a simple, strong man with a knowledge of what's important, and how he wants the world to be. And Inger is a kind woman with a harelip, whose baby dies mysteriously, suspiciously. Morally, the characters aren't perfect human beings, but they are perfect characters, and perfectly depicted.
"I can't think of any other book in world literature that comes anywhere near "Growth of the Soil" in portraying these simple, unsophisticated people breaking the land and struggle to live." (F.T. Olsen, at amazon.com)
More Knut Hamsun books at this site, or a complete Hamsun bibliography at Leserglede, with reviews of all of Hamsun's books, his biography, and other materials about him.
Other wonderful books by Knut Hamsun include Hunger (see our review of Hunger here), Mysteries (Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics), and Pan: From Lieutenant Thomas Glahn's Papers (Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics).
(1892) Mysteries is a psychological novel, concerned with the dreams and doubts of youth. It is remarkable for its lyric qualities and psychological insights. Mysteries is a lyrical book, where Hamsun's considerable skills as an observer as well as his irony and humor are evidenced.
Johan Nilsen Nagel is unpredictable. He arrives in a small Norwegian costal town with money and connection, and annoys the establishment with his strange and unconventional ideas and acts. As a result, things in the little town start to change.
Mysteries is a strange and funny book, very well written, that to some extent may be said to be concerned with the meaning of life. Knut Hamsun is at his playful best, and his writing style is beautiful.
Pan, by Knut Hamsun
(1894) Pan is about Lieutenant Thomas Glahn, living in a hunting cabin up in the Northern part of Norway, along with his dog, Aesop. He lives not far from the village Sirius, and interacts with people there. Then something happens which turns his life upside down.
Pan is a wonderful Hamsun book. Otto Weineger claimed it was the most beautiful book ever written. Regardless of whether that is correct or not - it is truly magnificent. In the book, Hamsun is much concerned with the beauty of nature and our relationship to it. He also uses language to underscore what is happening. For instance, when Glahn is alone, his sentences are long, drawn out, but when he talks to women, his sentences are short, distinct, intense. And the story itself is a beautiful as it is heartbreaking.
Pan is one of the most interesting books written by Hamsun, a true masterpiece. At the centre is the eternal battle of the sexes. The book is full of pure poetry and "lyric outbursts". Pan is also one of the most widely known works by Knut Hamsun.
Children of the Age
Children of the Age (1913) marks a shift of focus in the writings of Hamsun. He turns from a more or less psychological perspective in his writings more towards a focus on society and larger social relationships. Children of the Age, and the follow-up, Segelfoss Town, are books where Hamsun's social philosophy becomes visible. Hamsun was not in favor of mechanization.
He is engaged, sharp, funny, and ironic in his social criticism. The change from traditional agricultural to modern industrial society receives a lot of attention, and Hamsun turns out - not so surprising - to be a bit of a defender of the old order. However, he sees the strengths as well as the weaknesses of both social orders fairly well. He is a wonderful observer.
In Children of the Age Knut Hamsun presents the city and castle of Segelfoss, the big land-owner Lieutenant Holmsen and the emerging capitalist Holmengrå. Holmsen's position in town is inherited. Holmengrå, by contrast has become rich in Mexico. We see how Holmengrå's entrepreneurial activities transform the city and accelerate the downfall of the old order and its powers.
Children of the Age is one of Hamsun's less known masterpieces in our opinion. It is much easier to read than Hunger, Mysteries, or Pan. However, it is not in any way lacking in depth and perspective. Strongly recommended!
Segelfoss Town (1915) is the continuation of Children of the Age, and Segelfoss is still where it all happens. Now Tobias Holmengrå, the entrepreneurial capitalist, is the big guy in Segelfoss. The lieutenant is nothing but a distant memory now; money and the struggle of the classes rule the day. Changing times, business cycles, and events large and small create problems for the city and even its richest citizen.
Segelfoss Town is, in our humble opinion, an even more interesting book than Children of the Age, and full of black humor, fascinating interactions among the wide gallery of characters, and wonderful observations about the dynamics of the changing circumstances.
While easier to read than most of Hamsun's other books, Segelfoss Town still reveals the depth of Hamsun's ability to observe, his humor and use of irony, and is written in a beautiful, extremely well crafted language. Great fun actually, and a great reading experience, as well as a lot of food for thought.
See also our Knut Hamsun biography and list of Hamsun biographies. For a review of all of Knut Hamsun's books, go to Leserglede's Hamsun bibliography. See also our reviews of the movies Hamsun and Hunger.