Norway’s Nazi outcast Hamsun tiptoes back on stage

OSLO (AFP) — Norwegian Nobel literature laureate Knut Hamsun, who fell from grace after World War II for his Nazi sympathies, is gingerly moving centre stage as Norway celebrates his authorship, but his past continues to taint his legacy.

KKnut Hamsun, June 1927. Photograph: Anders Beer Wilse. Courtesy of the National Library, Oslo

For the 150th anniversary celebrations of Hamsun’s birth this year, which begin Thursday, Norway will honour the author in a way it refused to do for his centennial, back when the Scandinavian country was still licking its wounds after five years of Nazi occupation.

“It is understandable that some people, especially the generation that lived through the war, are reacting but it is the literary work, not the political ideas, that we’re celebrating,” ceremony coordinator Knut Listerud told AFP, admitting however that “it can be difficult to separate the two.”

“His books are incredible, among the best. He is one of the greatest Norwegian authors and there is a reason that he is also so popular abroad,” he said.

The literary heights the self-taught Hamsun reached were only equalled by the depths to which he plunged under the weight of his political opinions.

Hamsun was barely 30 when he won acclaim for his semi-autobiographical “Hunger,” which in hallucinatory terms describes the setbacks of a young author plagued but also inspired by hunger.

From Hamsun’s work on The Growth of the Soil. Fragment with two alternative titles. Courtesy of the National Library of Norway.

From Hamsun’s work on The Growth of the Soil. Fragment with two alternative titles. Courtesy of the National Library of Norway.

In 1920, his epic “Growth of the Soil” was awarded the Nobel Literature Prize, making him one of only three Norwegians to ever win the prestigious award.

To read the entire AFP article, click here.

The opening commemorative event of the Knut Hamsun 150th anniversary of 2009 will take place in Oslo on 19 February, the day of the author’s death. Hamsun’s breakthrough novel Hunger (Sult, 1890), set in the city then known as Kristiania, provides the framework for the event.

For more information on the Hamsun Year 2009 on the Norwegian National Library’s website, click here.

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