Enigma: The Life of Knut Hamsun Enigma
by Robert Ferguson

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(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Knut Hamsun wrote three unforgettable novels, HUNGER, MYSTERIES, and PAN, in a six-year span of intense creativity between 1888 and 1894. In his long career, he produced another five or six novels worth rereading, and many forgettable ones, in addition to several volumes of short stories and plays and a remarkable memoir, ON OVERGROWN PATHS, written in his eighties. Hamsun, who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1920, gained notoriety of a different kind during World War II, as a supporter of the Nazis; upon Adolf Hitler’s death, he wrote a short eulogy, published in an Oslo newspaper, which began: “I am not worthy to speak his name out loud.” After the war, he was tried for his complicity with the Norwegian Nazi party, found guilty, and fined an enormous sum (still a rather lenient sentence under the circumstances). He died unrepentant, in 1952, at the age of ninety-two.

ENIGMA: THE LIFE OF KNUT HAMSUN is the first full-length biography of Hamsun to appear in English. Recounting the book’s genesis, author Robert Ferguson explains that his fascination with Hamsun’s fiction led him to learn Norwegian and, ultimately, to live in Norway. Ferguson’s approach to his subject is straightforwardly chronological, beginning with the birth of Knut Pedersen (the name Hamsun was chosen by the writer after he began his career) in 1859 in a village some two hundred miles north of the polar circle. The harsh poverty of Hamsun’s childhood, his driving ambition, his early literary efforts (always accompanied by vigorous self-promotion), his two sojourns in America, his contentious presence on the Norwegian cultural scene--all this is given detailed coverage, as are the years of success...

(The entire section is 418 words.)