When Americans remember him at all, they no doubt think of Knut
Hamsun (1859-1952) as the author of "Hunger "or as the Norwegian
who, along with Vidkun Quisling, betrayed his country by supporting
the Nazis during World War II. Yet Hamsun, winner of the Nobel
Prize in 1920 for his novel "The ""Growth of the Soil," was and
remains one of the most important and influential novelists of his
time. "Knut Hamsun Remembers America" is a collection of thirteen
essays and stories based largely on Hamsun's experiences during the
four years he spent in the United States when he was a young man.
Most of these pieces have never been published before in an English
translation, and none are readily available.
Hamsun's feelings about America and American ways were complex.
For the most part, they were more negative than positive, and they
found expression in many of his writings--directly in his
reminiscences and indirectly in his fiction. In "On the Cultural
Life of Modern America," his first major book, he portrayed the
United States as a land of gross and greedy materialism, populated
by illiterates who were utterly lacking in artistic originality or
refinement. Although the pieces in this collection are not all
anti-American, most of them emphasize the strangeness and
unpleasantness, as the author saw it, of life in what he called
Arranged chronologically, the pieces fall into three categories:
Critical Reporting, Memory and Fantasy, and Mellow Reminiscence.
The Critical Reporting section includes articles that appeared in
Norwegian or Danish newspapers soon after each of Hamsun's two
visits to America and that give his views on a variety of American
subjects, and includes an essay devoted to Mark Twain. Memory and
Fantasy comprises narratives of life in America, most of which are
presented as personal experiences but which actually are blends of
fact and fiction. Mellow Reminiscence includes later and fonder
recollections and impressions of the United States.
The pieces in this collection provide variations on a theme
that runs through much of American history--European criticism of
American ways. They give vivid, at times distorted, pictures of
life as it was in the United States. They tell us something about
the development of the worldview of a man who became a great
writer, only to jeopardize his reputation by defending the Nazi
oppressors of his own people." Knut Hamsun Remembers America" will
appeal to anyone interested in the history of American civilization
or, more specifically, in the history of anti-Americanism.
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