It was in those days when I went about hungry in Kristiania, that strange city that no one leaves before it has set its mark on him. (Translation by Sverre Lyngstad)
These are the opening words of Knut Hamsun’s (1859–1952) breakthrough novel Hunger – a story told by a nameless main character struggling to make a living as a writer in Oslo (previously called Kristiania) at the end of the 19th century. It is Hamsun’s literary achievement that is being celebrated in 2009, and the novel Hunger provided the framework for the opening event in the streets of Oslo on 19 February.
Hunger and soup
Hundreds of curious passers-by followed in the footsteps of the novel’s main character through the snowy streets of Oslo. They witnessed his quarrel with publishers, his attempts to win the favour of the mystical Ylajali, and his encounters with the police, some of which were similar to Hamsun’s own experiences. And in order to keep the hunger of the novel’s protagonist at bay, a warming soup was served along the way.
Hamsun on five continents
Hamsun Year will be celebrated all over the world with lectures, dramatisations and new translations. In Georgia and Azerbaijan, there will be a commemoration this autumn of the famous journey that Hamsun took through Russia to the Caucasus 110 years ago.
“We hope that the Hamsun Year will help people realize just what a marvellous writer Hamsun was, and that they will be inspired to read his work, also in the light of the present public debate,” said Vigdis Moe Skarstein, national librarian and organizer, to the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation during the opening.
Knut Hamsun is regarded as one of Norway’s most important writers, and he won a place in world history when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for Growth of the Soil in 1920. His politics, on the other hand, were controversial. He sympathised with the Nazis, and was charged with treason after the war. He was later sentenced to pay a large sum in civil compensation.
His last book, On Overgrown Paths, is his apologia.