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Hunger: A Novel

Hunger: A Novel

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Hunger: A Novel

4/5 (58 avaliações)
267 página
4 horas
Lançado em:
Oct 13, 2009


In Erica Simone Turnipseed's captivating follow-up to A Love Noire, heartache fans the flames of lust when freethinking Noire and Innocent, her urbane African ex, reunite.

Noire and Innocent are both having a thirtysomething crisis. His former identity as a successful investment banker and eligible bachelor has disappeared. A beleaguered graduate student, she's got no money, no man, and no Ph.D., yet. A year of predoctoral research in Haiti leaves Noire drained. And a trip home to Côte d'Ivoire offers Innocent little more than intermittent sexual gratification. In the aftermath of 9/11, Innocent and Noire are back in New York City and find solace in each other's bed. But even that arrangement collapses under the weight of Innocent's revelation that he has unfinished business in Africa. For Innocent and Noire, patching together their unraveling lives becomes an exercise in hope and humility. With Hunger, Turnipseed lives up to the promise of A Love Noire and has matured into a writer who fearlessly explores the intersection of sex, love, identity, and loss in a cross-cultural context.

Lançado em:
Oct 13, 2009

Sobre o autor

Erica Simone Turnipseed's debut, A Love Noire, won the Atlanta Choice Author of the Year Award from the Atlanta Daily World. A philanthropist, Turnipseed founded the Five Years for the House Initiative, a fund-raising drive for the Afro American Cultural Center at Yale. She lives with her husband in Brooklyn, New York.

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Amostra do Livro

Hunger - Erica Simone Turnipseed




New York City

September 2000

Noire’s gaze bounced between a triangle of activity: Arikè’s grass-stained maternity wedding gown being scrubbed furiously by her mother, Arikè herself—clad only in pregnancy thongs—doing her best imitation of a yoga resting pose, her arms and legs spread wide across her bed, and Dennis polishing his brand-new wedding band with his Trinidad and Tobago T-shirt.

She knew it was time for her to leave. She had been happy to serve as Arikè’s maid of honor but there was nothing else to do. She picked up her overnight bag, kissed Arikè on the forehead, and walked a mile to the Metro-North train station that would deposit her back in New York City. Thankfully, in less than twenty-four hours she would begin her own journey. Her apartment already sublet, she cringed at the thought of one more night on Jayna’s living room floor. She had to leave; she didn’t belong anywhere.

I live alone. That hasn’t always been easy to do. For just a single woman…. Noire muttered the song along with Nina Simone, corrupting her melodic reflection into the dirge it was never meant to be. The voices that spoke rapid-fire Haitian Kreyòl around her in the JFK Airport terminal crept into the spaces of her and Nina’s song, making it a lament for her current romantic prospects and a foretaste of her year in Haiti.

Noire knew she’d find little sympathy among her peers. Many doctoral candidates would kill for the high-profile fellowships she’d won to Curaçao and now to Haiti, not to mention her enviable position of being Bonita Fuentes’s personal protégée. By the force of her own professional reputation, Bonita had thrust Noire into the academic limelight, and had managed to generate enough buzz about Noire to land her a coveted slot at the Comparative Literature Association’s annual convention. But even as her professional star rose, her love life crashed and burned, starting with her breakup with Innocent in May—which hurt her as much for its necessity as the knowledge that he had already planned to do the same. So she filled the hole he left with other men’s eager penises and her own obsession with her work and Bonita’s good opinion of her.

It was a Monday afternoon, the eleventh of September, and Noire was marooned at the end of a three-hundred-person line that snaked in front of the American Airlines counter and nearly out the door. Apparently everyone had decided to come early, she noted with a sigh. The first song finished, Noire snickered at the next track coming from her CD player—Lonesome Cities—and wondered what Port-au-Prince, Haiti, would bring her.

She used her weight to move her luggage carrier, which represented everything that seemed important to her: the approved predoctoral prospectus that was the reason for her trip, and clothes, books, CDs, empty journals, and a year’s supply of tampons, Renaissance Hairtopia hair oil, birth control pill packs, and condoms. The last two were more a matter of being a responsible woman than anything else, she reasoned, but the melancholy that melted over her heart and seeped into her loins assured her that she would indeed put them to use.

Her summer in Curaçao only three weeks behind her, she had been back in the States just long enough to wash her clothes, buy a Kreyòl-English dictionary and new dildo, and grow to hate Jayna’s boyfriend of three and a half months with whom she now shared a midtown condo. Despite Noire’s best efforts to see very little of him from her corner of the living room floor, she managed to see quite a lot when he accidentally walked into the kitchen naked, his physical assets in full view. Seemed that his lucrative career—as private banker to the newly rich and fabulous—hadn’t earned him enough money to buy a robe. But Jayna claimed that she had never been happier, so Noire bit her lip. If well hung, nouveau riche, and arrogant were Jayna’s criteria, she had found her ideal mate.

Her luggage at last checked, Noire flipped her backpack onto her back and headed for Voulez Vous, the only restaurant that promised a reprieve from the greasy fast food of the terminal. She tucked herself into a booth and placed her order. Once it arrived, she shoved her lukewarm dessert crepe into her mouth quicker than she could taste it and assumed the posture of eating alone: bag on the opposite seat, open magazine on table, gaze nonchalant, and body covering the space of a seat for two. Eating alone was another part of the daily routine that she had mastered and had even come to enjoy, as much for the anonymity as the people-watching and eavesdropping it offered.

The husky French of a woman’s voice behind her captured her imagination. She attuned her mind to the language and processed the critical edge in her voice immediately. The respondent’s voice, a man’s, was lower, and reflected the reverence of one addressing an elder. She listened to his voice but missed his words, their timbre knitting together nausea and arousal at the bottom of her belly.

Noire gagged, then downed her entire glass of water before standing up. She left her meal and her bags in her booth and walked toward the voice she had loved and left. Innocent. She declared his name as a form of greeting. She clutched the vinyl back of his companion’s chair and looked at the face she had not seen since saying good-bye in the same terminal only four months before.

"Mon Dieu, Noire! He sprang out of his seat and kissed her instinctually on both cheeks, tasting a new scent on them, before remembering to switch into English. How are you? Why are you here? This is my mmu—mother." The last word tripped his tongue and forced his mouth closed. He was happy for the opportunity to gather his thoughts and merely extended his arm toward Maman as if to point her out.

Noire looked at the features that were the antecedent to all that she had come to delight in during her and Innocent’s one-and-a-half-year relationship. His mother was a woman with a stern countenance and enduring beauty. Her skin the color and patina of well-aged ebony, she looked like the incarnation of triumph in a hard-won war.

"Bonjour, Madame Pokou. She inclined her head and offered her hand for the limp handshake she believed appropriate for the occasion. Je suis Noire," she added, by way of explanation. Noire registered no recognition in his mother’s eyes but decided that it must just be a cloak of formality. She pushed the corners of her lips into an obligatory smile and released her hand.

Madame Pokou offered the slightest nod of the head and said nothing.

Innocent read the vacancy in Maman’s eyes and traced their gaze back to the confusion in Noire’s. He prayed for his mother to feign knowledge of Noire and smile, but when she didn’t, he distracted Noire with a lingering hand on her shoulder. So, what brings you here? He softened his gaze and remained standing so that Noire would not be alone.

I won that predoctoral fellowship to go to Haiti.

Oh, right. He bobbed his head for too long and looked off. Already? I mean, twice in one year.

Yeah. Bonita wanted to fast-track me.

How was Curaçao?


Great! Innocent was afraid his grin was pulled too tight. He willed it to look more normal.

And you? Off somewhere? Noire heard her voice an octave higher than normal.

We’re going to France to visit my sister. You know, Charlotte. He nodded for Noire. And Maman came here to see Mireille off. She just started at Howard University this fall.

Oh yes, she did decide to go, after all. Noire’s voice was flat, her remembrance of his anger at his baby sister’s indecision about leaving Côte d’Ivoire for college in the States and the irony of his negative reaction to her decision to apply for the fellowship in Haiti.

She just needed time, Innocent responded to Noire’s thoughts.

Mmm. Noire turned back toward Madame Pokou. You must be so proud. Of your children. She spoke in the pleasantest, accented French she could and waited for more familiarity to cross her face. It didn’t come.

Oui was Madame Pokou’s only response.

So, we were just getting a bite. We figured, let’s arrive early. We had lots of baggage.

Noire missed her cue to speak, her eyes fixed upon Innocent’s bottom lip that turned out in a way that always invited her to kiss it. She hated that it still moved her, and hated that Innocent could tell what she was staring at. She looked down.

Innocent felt his pores open up, unleashing perspiration from his forehead, armpits, and crotch. He let a bead of sweat roll down his leg and land in his sock before he said anything more. When will you be back, Noire?

Exactly a year from now. Noire felt her nipples tighten into easily distinguishable points against her T-shirt. She pulled her jacket across her chest.

Yeah, a whole year?! That’s really something. He talked to himself because he didn’t know what else to say to Noire. He willed his mind to fashion another question. Anything. And so, how have things been going? I mean, with everyone.

Arikè and Dennis got married yesterday. They’re expecting in early January.

Life just moves on…. He clucked his tongue.

Yeah… Noire felt suddenly depressed, like sandbags were tied around her brain, dragging her thoughts into murky water. So, I should finish my food.

Please, can it be my treat? He regretted his words immediately, but he couldn’t retrieve them so instead he watched them hang in the air.

No. She offered a tepid smile for him and his mother.

Right…okay. He bobbed his head in understanding and endured the torrent of perspiration that emanated from his crotch and stung the flesh of his thighs. "Of course. Well, it was wonderful to see you. You look…wonderful. Have a safe trip." He kissed her on either cheek and remained standing until she walked back to her table. Noire felt his stare make mush of her belly. She dropped into her booth and stabbed the cold crepe in front of her.


January 2001

Noire’s rented cell phone vibrated on Pierre’s nightstand. She pulled away from his body that had tensed in anticipation of the news to be delivered in a late-night call. Even though the New Year was five hours old, Pierre’s instincts as a journalist for Haiti’s most outspoken newspaper made him wary of such calls. He held Noire’s naked thigh in support.

Hello? She clutched the phone and waited, the delay in transmission heightening her own anticipation.

It’s Dennis! We had the baby! Happy New Year!

Noire exhaled. Oh my God! Congratulations! She listened to the static and fumbling on the other end.

Thank you, Noire! Arikè announced herself, her voice dancing across the choppy transmission in a fierce ragtime rhythm. We’re so excited! I can’t believe it!

Noire glimpsed the faintest haze of the first day of the year in the windows of Pierre’s house. She smiled away the knot of confusion at Pierre’s brow and asked the requisite questions: sex, time, weight.

Realizing that the news on the other end of the line was good, Pierre began to suck on Noire’s nipples.

He’s a boy! Born at 12:02 A.M. And big, Noire. Eight pounds fourteen ounces. No wonder why I was huge! We were eating breakfast yesterday when my water broke. It was crazy! I pushed for like five hours! I guess he wanted to be Baby New Year! Well, this is long-distance and I know it’s early, so I won’t hold you.

Noire struggled to hear all that Arikè said. You sound good! What’s his name? Does he have one yet?

Well, Dennis won the bet, so he named him Purpose. The name will grow on me, I guess! She chuckled. Noire, thanks for your prayers through all this. I love you!

Okay, good-bye. The phone went silent on Noire’s last syllable. She felt bad. Arikè had thanked her for prayers she seldom remembered to say. She looked down at Pierre, whose nibbling had migrated down to the meeting of her thighs.

Would you like me to give you a baby, Noire? His words breathed hot air through her thicket of hair.

Guess. Noire handed him a condom and let herself feel all the things that blocked the noise in her head that sounded like crying.


May 2001

Côte d’Ivoire’s rainy season had begun in earnest. Innocent’s latest trip home commenced over three months ago, when the heat was a welcome escape from the misery of February in New York City, the snowstorms no longer novel or festive. He watched sheets of rain slice the May sky into ribbons of cool air, making the city shine like new money atop broad boulevards and moist red earth. He felt antsy. His own business development had brought him there but Maman had seized the opportunity to resume her campaign to get him married in time for his ill father to witness it. And his many trips throughout the city on errands for Papa or in pursuit of his own business provided ample opportunity to indulge his penchant for seeing the buttocks of thick women straining against hastily tied wrapper skirts as they negotiated the marketplace. But he managed not to partake of the delights that dwelt behind those threadbare outfits, preferring discreet hand jobs of his own invention or his grade-school classmate’s widow who had offered her oral skills for no more than an hour’s conversation.

She talked about things that didn’t interest him, and he began to revile their arrangement, and himself for consenting to it. He had weathered periods of celibacy before, and even enjoyed the opportunity for reflection. But this time he did not want to interrogate his restlessness, so he eventually succumbed to his mother’s many suggestions of dates with the women whom she had deemed acceptable. And when Chi-Chi called and mentioned that May 4 was her twenty-ninth birthday, he wondered aloud if he could take her to dinner. She graciously accepted.

Her body had the roundness of a woman who had long passed the awkwardness of new womanhood and her mind percolated with more world events than local gossip. He greeted her with a kiss on either corner of her lips.

You seem happy to see me.

It’s your birthday. He offered her a flash of his thoughts. "And it’s my pleasure to see you."

She raised her eyebrows in response. Perhaps it’s not so bad to be an unmarried woman on the cusp of thirty after all.

I think it’s a good thing, Chi-Chi.

They drained a bottle of champagne before the main course was served, and by dessert, Innocent imagined the inside of her thighs hugging his and the softness of her belly promising a soft place to land.

Sex with Chi-Chi offered every physical thrill he had longed for. He closed his mind to his thoughts and focused on his urges. When it was over, Innocent slunk out of Chi-Chi’s sister’s house—which she had been minding in her absence—and walked six miles in the darkness back to his parents’ home.

The main house was already closed up for the night, and Innocent was relieved to have some space for himself. He went straight to the boys’ quarter and took a bucket bath, washing Chi-Chi off his body and out of his mind with black soap and cold water.

Part One




5:45 A.M.

Innocent thrust his face up toward the showerhead, the hot water pelting his skin like a million rubber bullets shot at close range. The news reporter’s voice slithered into the bathroom: Polls will soon open in New York City. Registered Democrats will be choosing their candidate for mayor during today’s primary. He opened his eyes into the hail of water, then stepped back. The bathroom was hazy gray, the only light a promise of a sun that was yet to rise. He made short work of his morning erection, relieving himself in a small, satisfied gasp as the reporter made predictions on who would win the primary.

Voting. Innocent had never concerned himself much with U.S. politics, only mildly chagrined that he paid taxes to a government that saw him as an outsider. But after the fiasco of last year’s presidential election, he had managed a more robust interest in this country’s system of government that impacted him in more ways than he cared to admit. He swiped a bar of soap across his body halfheartedly, knowing he would soon replace its scent with his own sweat when he arrived at his twice-weekly personal training session with Miguel. No longer a six-figure investment banker, Innocent knew his downsized lifestyle did not warrant Miguel’s hefty price tag, but he decided to keep him even after leaving Wright Richards because Miguel knew how to get the results Innocent wanted.

Innocent stepped out of the shower, residual water making rivers of the ridges in his chest and muscles of his legs and landing in newly created puddles that he tracked from the bathroom to the refrigerator. He grabbed a banana and poured a glass of tomato juice. He ate standing up, dressed, and pulled on his in-line skates before leaving his loft in time for his 7:00 A.M. session with Miguel on the one hundredth floor of the World Trade Center.

Where is Pierre? Madame Jean-Juste crinkled the many folds of her eyes in Noire’s direction from her perch on the porch.

Noire kept her gaze trained on Raynald, her landlady’s driver, who was loading her last piece of luggage into his car. She had offered to have him drive Noire to the airport. At home, I suppose. It was her final morning in Haiti and Noire didn’t want to reveal the rest of the story.

Madame Jean-Juste sucked her teeth and put her hands on her hips, pulling her housecoat taut over her pendulous breasts and splaying at the bottom to reveal a wrinkled knee. He loves you. You know that?

She spoke as if Noire must not have known, as if her revelation would soften Noire’s heart to him. Of course she knew how Pierre felt. He always said how he felt. That was the problem. Noire didn’t want to know half of what he shared. She knew about his father’s torture and death at the hands of the Tonton Macoutes during the elections in 1987 and about his wife’s mysterious drowning in 1999. He had more baggage than she wanted to carry. She had rented out her body to him for the price of an orgasm. Haiti had not been what she expected and had left her tired. I’m going back home, Madame Jean-Juste. And, for better or worse, home for me is the United States.

The U.S. is overrated.

Noire hunched her shoulders. Maybe that was true, but what did it matter.

The two of you could live in Miami!

Noire laughed now, momentarily entertained by her landlady’s desire for a happy ending to a story she barely knew. At eighty-six years old, Madame Jean-Juste had outlived two husbands and complained to Noire about the erectile dysfunction of her seventy-four-year-old boyfriend. If anything changes with Pierre and me, you’ll be the first to know. Noire jogged up the stairs and hugged her good-bye. Madame Jean-Juste had been an unexpected source of delight for Noire during a year that had made her more cynical about the world’s disregard for the black and the poor, of

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O que as pessoas pensam sobre Hunger

58 avaliações / 44 Análises
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Avaliações de leitores

  • (4/5)
    Hunger is set in Kristiania, Norway (renamed Oslo in 1925) and is the rather dire tale of a struggling impoverished writer, who struggles to not only keep a roof over his head, but also to provide himself with enough food to eat as well as keeping himself properly clothed for winter.It is a book that makes you thankful to live in a time when society provides social security benefits so that people need not starve to death*.It's a relatively quick read at a mere 134 pages, but at times its contents are nonetheless rather harrowing such as when the protagonist cuts the buttons of his jacket in an attempt to pawn them to be able to buy a morsel of food.*Generally speaking, I'm aware this does not exist in all countries at the present time.
  • (3/5)
    Definitely a stream-of-consciousness narrative. Hard to follow only because the protagonist is hard to follow. You want him to succeed, and you believe he can succeed, but he doesn't. Frustrating and disheartening.
  • (4/5)
    Hamsun deftly portrays the irrationality of the human mind assailed by hunger in a unique and often amusing manner. The narrator's psychological state is very well-developed and Hamsun's prose brings to life the intricacies of the human mind; Hamsun also portrays Oslo (then called Kristiana) in a realist manner.

    Similar to Crime and Punishment (since Fyodor Dostoevsky was one of Hamsun's main influences), Hunger is an expert piece of psychological drama and an excellent introduction to Hamsun's work.

    This particular edition also had an appendix by the translator (Sverre Lyngstad) on the troubles translating Hunger into English, which was particularly informative since Hamsun is a troublesome author to translate accurately owing to his expansive vocabulary and expressive style.
  • (5/5)
    So realistic, I thought I was starving. Very compelling.
  • (5/5)
    This novel is stark, emotionally evocative and on a primal level, terrifying. If you dare, enter the psyche of the narrator, a writer, who waivers between abject poverty and death. Suffer along with him as Hamsun's brilliant writing takes the reader to the brink of utter madness, sublime passion, and death by starvation. In the end, what is the hunger for in addition to food? You will have to suffer the throes of despair and humiliation of the protagonist to find out!
  • (5/5)
    I found this to be simultaneously an easy read and a difficult one. It's a slim book, and the language is straightforward, which made it easy. But the descriptions of being hungry and hopeless were often oppressively vivid. The narrator is a writer; he occasionally gets pieces published in the local newspaper, but the money never lasts long. Almost before the euphoria from getting paid fades, he is broke and starving again. He pawns everything he owns. He becomes homeless. He tries to get a regular job, but a minor error means he isn't considered. He tries to concentrate, to write, to bring himself out of his hunger-induced confusion long enough to sell another piece, but it's hard to focus.Hamsun does an incredible job describing the feeling of being hungry, and the results of starvation on one's mind. But more than that, he gets at the very essence of the dehumanizing feelings of being poor, of finding oneself an outcast from society. He makes the reader feel the despair and devaluation, while still keeping alive the glimmers of hope that the narrator maintains. It's a powerful look into what it is like to be on the bottom of the ladder.Recommended for: anyone who's ever felt like they just couldn't catch a break, people not on a dietQuote: Whatever could be the reason that things would not brighten up for me? Was I not just as much entitled to live as anyone else?
  • (5/5)
    ‘Andreas Tangen’ is the fictitious name our nameless protagonist gives to the Officer on Duty the night he finds himself cold, wet, famished, keyless (not to say clueless, and consequently without even a room to go home to) and nearing delirium. His solution? To seek room and board in the city jail whence he can contemplate the rain falling on the outside.

    I only recently (July 17) read and reviewed Jack London’s Martin Eden. Knut Hamsun’s semiautobiographical Hunger could well serve as a companion piece to London’s equally semiautobiographical novel. And neither would be out of place sitting alongside Dostoyevsky’s Notes from (the) Underground.

    “‘I will read it,’ he (the editor of a city paper in Christiania) said, taking it. ‘Of course everything you write will cost you labor; the only trouble with your work perhaps is excitability. If you could only be a little more composed! There is too much fever all the time. Anyway, I’ll read it.’ Then he turned to his desk work” (p. 95).

    Our anonymous protagonist’s “excitability” is quite understandable given his uncertain living conditions and constant state of hunger. And Robert Bly has done an excellent job of translating (I assume) and injecting (I don't assume) that same excitability into Hamsun’s Norwegian prose. For anyone who’s ever been homeless and felt prolonged hunger pangs for the sake of his art (or through the sheer absence of work), Hamsun’s words and Bly’s translation of those words may ring truer than any of us would care to remember. The only thing worse? I can still recall Luis Alberto Urrea’s description (in The Devil’s Highway) of what occurs when people emerge in the Arizona desert after having walked up from Mexico (or from points even further south) … and are out of water. (What happens to the human animal as it passes through the several stages of extreme dehydration is something you may be tempted to read about, but never want to actually witness.)

    In any case, our protagonist’s problem is the title of this book — and it never disappears. With hunger, comes a slow insanity. It’s not easy to read about, but both Hamsun and Bly do a superb job of portraying it in all of its insidious glory. This is indeed a case of afflictio gratia artis (suffering for the sake of art).

    Brooklyn, NY

  • (2/5)
    I'm sorry but I disagree with what seems to be the general consensus on this book. I read the 1920 edition with a translation by George Egerton and that may very well be the problem. A translated piece of fiction is subject to the skill and finesse of the translator, and perhaps the person to blame here is not the author but the translator.In any case, I found Hunger to be a bit meandering and frustrating. I don't really know what the Norwegian society of the time described in the novel was like but it certainly did not have much to recommend for it. The scenes where the author describes chewing on wood shavings to dampen his pangs of hunger and where he throws up a perfectly healthy (and necessary) meal because his body can't process the food are almost depressing.I found some of the protagonists actions difficult to understand, for example why doesn't he just beg? Or steal? Or engage in some sort of manual labor? Why is there not any friend our relative who will throw some scraps his way? Surely the concept of dying from hunger must have been a rare event in nineteenth century Norway? Or was it?Another hindrance in relating to the book was the fact that I have no idea what "half a soverign" or half a crown could buy in that time. The romance half way through the novel also did not quite make much sense to me, did I miss something there?The one thought the book forced was about the role of food and money and the bigger question of why we work. Do we work only to put food in our bellies? Certainly not. But the first requirement that must be met with the fruit of our labor is the filling of our bellies. The book however doesn't really make that (or any other) case with much conviction. The dénouement is also almost anticlimactic.I was left unimpressed. Not recommended.
  • (5/5)
    Hamsun got mixed up with that blighter in the extreme, Hitler, this has doubtless harmed his reputation. Reader. don't let this prevent you from looking at Hamsun. He is well worth the effort.
  • (5/5)
    I approached this influential work with high expectations, and i was not disappointed. The novel is raw, stark, spare -- the effect is visceral. It is psychological realism at its best. We follow a short phase in the life of an impoverished but talented young writer in the streets of Christiana (Oslo) in the late 19th century, who is reduced by his condition to borderline madness. Indeed it seemed that his flashes of brilliance are occasioned by extreme starvation when delirium brings on inspiration and creativity. We witness his misadventures at finding work or something to eat, his humorous encounters with some characters, his sometimes infuriatingly schizophrenic behavior, his spinning of a small world around him rushing from heights of ecstatic revelry and hope to pityingly low depths of self-pity and mockery, and back, always in a mad dash. His is a complex character -- irritatingly self-possessed and proud but also generous to a fault, literally giving away the last shirt on his back. In an unforgettable passage, he challenges God for the injustice of withholding opportunities from a toiling, hardworking, and well-intentioned person as he. We feel his isolation, his torment, self-deception, his caprices, his small joys, his passions, his dignity. He is a man destined to write, and he lives because he writes. With such themes, the novel could easily have been dark and depressing, but it is not. There is plenty of comic relief and the mood is exhilarating, fast-paced, rebellious. The character reminded me of Dostoevky's Raskolnikov but without the drama. Definitely a must-read.
  • (3/5)
    Charles Bukowski said that this was one of his favorite books, and old Charles didn't give praise lightly. The book was certainly ahead of its time, reading like something from the height of modernism, rather than the 1890s. I understand why Bukowski like it. He always held to the ideal of the poor, mad artist and this book is a psychological study of a poor, insane writer. The protagonist is so irrational and insane at times it's just irritating. Was he insane because he was poor and hungry, or was he poor and hungry because he was insane (and in my opinion an idiot)? I don't know. I respect the book, but it's not a favorite of mine.
  • (4/5)
    This is an older novel, written in the 1930's or thereabouts. It was originally in Norwegian, and the author later won a Nobel Prize for Growth of the Soil, which I haven't started yet.All the reviews said this was a disturbing novel of isolation. It was, and is, fascinating.The protagonist, writing in the first person, describes his life as a writer who has suffered hunger and starvation long enough that his mental faculties are injured beyond repair (it would seem). He writes occasionally for a newspaper, makes enough to get by a few days if his story is purchased, or goes without food for days if it doesn't get picked up. The malnourishment causes a variety of problems, from extreme mood swings to paranoia to hallucinations. He takes to chewing on wood shavings, then stones, then a piece of his jacket pocket to try and defy the hunger. When he does eat, he is usually ill from the food. He gets to a point where he visualizes taking a bite out of his hand to eat, and does so. He comes out of his trance when he does, but it shows how far out of reality he became. A few times he either finds money or is given some by a benevolent person; he simply can't accept this, and gives it away.The insanity is beyond anything I imagined. Perhaps because it's told in first person style, where every thought and inkling is described and explored. The people he harasses, the fights he starts, his visions of his own talent (highly inflated) and his paranoia are frightening. He has tremendous pride, not wanting to take help from others, even when he hasn't eaten for days. One shopkeeper, realizing his situation, actually pretends to make a mistake and gives him too much change...rather than take this for food, he gives it to a more 'impoverished' soul than him. It's not that he's selfless, far from it. His pride consumes him. He can't bear to imagine anyone thinking badly of him, even when he is selling off his clothing and the buttons on his coat. He even has the opportunity to make use of a homeless shelter to get food and a bed, and he refuses rather than to look bad.Physically, the starvation manifests itself in losing his hair in clumps, a peeling skin rash and raw skin from his dirty clothes rubbing his skin, blackened nails, lost teeth, and a chronic dizziness and fever.I was amazed in that while he did write to earn money, he never seemed to try and seriously find a job. And he never seemed to consider stealing, which would have occurred to me before I would be chewing on stones. Again, it wasn't out of honor, it was about his perception of what others would think of him, and he wanted to be thought of as honorable, even though he wasn't. He was truly isolated. No family is mentioned, his only friends are actually acquaintances that avoid him because of his strange behavior and pathetic appearance, exactly what he was hoping to avoid. I couldn't help but wonder what kind of child he was (okay, I know it's fictional but I still think this way) and what made him so prideful and vain. It's said that everyone has a story they tell themselves about themselves. How they account for their choices and actions in their own head, and how they justify or condemn themself. In this I wondered, since I could clearly see the story he was telling himself, and how inaccurate it was from his reality, how far off is my perception of myself? Is the way I think as completely out of touch? Is my inner voice as flawed and stubborn as his?
  • (5/5)
    I agree with Janice Elliott, Sunday Telegraph - `a great book'. Stream of consciousness, rant, madness etc etc.
  • (3/5)
    A strange, lyrical book that presents hunger as a gateway to madness.
  • (4/5)
    I came to Knut Hamsun by way of George Egerton. Two writers few modern readers have heard of outside of academia and Norway. George Egerton (Mary Chavelita Dunne Bright) wrote two volumes of wonderful short stories, Keynotes and Discords, in the late 1890's and became one of the prominent figures in the feminist literary movement known as the "New Women." She had a romantic attachment with Norwegian writer Knut Hamsun, whom she listed as a strong influence on her own writing. In fact, she translated his first novel, Hunger, into English. Mr. Hamsun went on to win the Nobel Prize for literature in 1920, while Ms. Egerton faded into obscurity until modern critics such as Elaine Showalter rediscovered her work. I found her through Ms. Showalter's book A Literature of Their Own. Hunger is based on the ten years Mr. Hamsun spent in Christiania, now modern Oslo, trying to become a writer, earning very little money for the few articles and stories he could sell, and going without food much of the time. The novel's subject is hunger and its effects on the psychological and physical state of those who endure it. As such, it's an excellent work. Because Mr. Hamsun believed that the subject of literature should be the intricacies of the human mind, Hunger focuses on the experience and thoughts of its un-named narrator almost to the exclusion of other characters. There are other people in the book--the editor at the magazine, a landlady, an old friend who tries to offer help, a woman he meets on the streets a few times--but these characters are of little interest to Hamsun and to the reader. What interests Hamsun is the narrator's state of mind, the delusions his hunger causes, and his own desire to keep up appearances as he insists on surviving only by writing instead of taking on a profession which he feels his beneath a man of his sensibilities.Photo of author from WikipediaHunger is interesting reading, and this insistence on writing as the sole source of income eventually worked for Hamsun himself, eventually. But midway through the book, one starts wishing the narrator would simply get a job. I suppose it may be of those moments when a modern perspective intrudes on the experience of reading classic literature, but I suspect many of Mr. Hamsun's contemporaries had the same reaction. Even Franz Kafka took a job with an insurance agency, for heaven's sake. No one ever accused him of selling out.
  • (3/5)
    As per usual I skipped the introduction until I'd finished (they're always full of spoilers) though wish I'd taken the time to read it up front, as it summarises the entire book in half a page, making the point that there's no plot and the characters--other than the mildly insane protagonist--are inconsequential. I suppose I can see why it's supposedly influential (it breaks a few c19th literary moulds) but it wasn't my bag.
  • (4/5)
    written in a straightforward way, in the first person, it ends up being liberating - whether you're going to eat or not brings reality into focus - cuts to the chase
  • (5/5)
    A slim volume, a novel about an artist who is literally starving, effecting a rare glimpse into an obsessive mind. Hamsun won a Nobel prize in the 30's, but his reputation has been tarnished for his Nazi sympathies during the second world war. This is a worthwhile book.
  • (4/5)
    Strange, compelling book. Young Norwegian writer starves in Kristiana.But, the weirdest thing about this edition is the appendix, by its Norwegian translator. This consists of an angry, academically detailed documentation of his outrage at a previous translation. I know nothing of any of this, I'm prepared to believe him. But why is it included here?
  • (4/5)
    Extremely likable unnamed protagonist falls on some hard luck and finds himself homeless in the streets of Christiania, Norway. A lot of the book does focus on being really hungry and stressed out about trying to find a place to sleep. However, this guy also has a hilarious habit of harmlessly lying to or harrassing someone and then finding himself unable to stop it. He's also the type of guy who really doesn't want to beg for money (in fact he often gives away money to other people in need) he tries to make ends meet by writing articles for a local paper...all though the subject matters indicate that he may be losing his mind throughout the novel. This book also includes a "scandalous"/funny sorta sex scene. Recommended.
  • (5/5)
    Hunger by Knut Hamsun is a startling narrative told by a young journalist who is literally starving throughout the novel. Hamsun's technique, achieved in this first novel of his published in 1888, is to present a first person narrative that demonstrates a man subject to delusions and psychological stress that almost reaches the breaking point. This is not unusual for a contemporary author, but in the late nineteenth century it was very unusual.Written after Hamsun's return from an ill-fated tour of America, Hunger is loosely based on the author's own impoverished life before his breakthrough in 1890. Set in fin-de-siecle Christiana, the novel recounts the adventures of a starving young man whose sense of reality is giving way to a delusional existence on the darker side of a modern metropolis. While he vainly tries to maintain an outer shell of respectability, his mental and physical decay are recounted in detail. His ordeal, enhanced by his inability or unwillingness to pursue a professional career, which he deems unfit for someone of his abilities, is pictured in a series of encounters which Hamsun himself described as 'a series of analyses.' In many ways, the protagonist of the novel displays traits reminiscent of the underground man and Raskolnikov, whose creator, Fyodor Dostoevsky, was one of Hamsun's main influences. In Hamsun's story you have the unnamed narrator imagining actions of others, impersonating other people and living on the brink of an existence that seems surreal. In effective clear prose this rises to the level of a nightmare in print. The beauty and power of this book makes it a great read and one that I will not forget.
  • (4/5)
    A Norwegian classic I finally got around to reading. The book is about a struggling writer who runs out of money and goes hungry. It didn't take me long to start feeling desperately sorry for this man. The really raw way in which his desperate hunger and, as a result, often miserable and sometimes deranged state of mind is described, made this book a very uncomfortable, but also a very thought-provoking read. Reading about the main character's unwillingness to ask for or accept charity out of pride and a sense of personal dignity genuinely frustrated me. I found myself urging the character to steal, rather than preserving his lawfulness at the risk of dying of hunger.Unfortunately, even though this book was published in 1890, it remains relevant. It will stay relevant as long as there are people who have to go hungry. Through telling a story it makes a very powerful point. No moral is stated, nor is any lecture given. It is just a story. A story which serves as a poignant reminder that no matter how uncomfortable one might be made to feel by that person sitting on the street, asking for ones money, one is extremely privileged to be the one being asked.
  • (3/5)
    I probably didn't read this closely enough to say anything particularly intelligent about it. It has no plot, no character development, and very little in the way of logical organization of any kind. This is all clearly intentional: a literary polemic against the three volume novel that proceeds in a stately manner towards marriage or death. So if you've only ever read Victorian era novels, you'll probably be greatly shocked at this. If you've read anything else, you won't be.
    More interesting than the differences between this and, say, Great Expectations are the differences between this and all the stuff everyone compares it to: twentieth century absurdist or existentialist fiction. The translator of this edition says that the protagonist experiences Heidegger's 'authentic being towards death'. Uh... claptrap. What's fascinating about this book is that, unlike the quasi-Heideggerian anti-heroes of Camus etc, the hungry man is deeply, deeply moral. The translator suggests that this generosity is just a 'temperamental tic'. It seems to me to be much more than that, though. Here is a man who, although starving to death, is willing to give away any money he actually gets his hands on to others, simply out of compassion. He suffers for those who are beaten down even when he's the most beaten down of the lot. He's essentially a saintly aristocratic romantic artist, without the income that let most saints, aristocrats and romantic artists swan around the world doing their thing. If he's crazy, it's a good madness. If he's sane, he's a genuine moral hero, despite his occasional peccadilloes. I suspect the best comparison might be to ancient cynics who embraced poverty and lived disgusting lives as a mockery of social norms. Except this modern cynic is aware that social norms are all we've got: he just lives up to the ideals his society produced, while the society itself goes on whoring, materialistic and angry.
  • (5/5)
    This book reminded me of Crime and Punishment. It is an easy read but hard to put down. It is a stream of consciousness narrative without much of a plot and an early example of post-modernism. While reading this book about someone who is truly hungry you can see how there is a fine line between reality and hallucination. I enjoyed it very much and I would recommend this book to those who like books about life in late 19th century in northern Europe.
  • (4/5)
    I really don't know what I think about this Norwegian classic by Nobel Laureate Knut Hamsun. Even my rating is a bit of a guess!I found this very easy to read and the effects of extreme poverty on the main character were fascinating to behold. But I found this unnamed character very odd in places. I could understand to some extent his pride leading him to doing some things that could be seen as foolish but some of his pranks were bizarre.
  • (4/5)
    I read the Bly translation.

    My edition had an intro by Paul Auster. It took me forever to get through the intro, the book was much more interesting. But between the intro and the afterword (by Bly) I ended up with a lot of questions:

    1) Auster implies the Hamsun starved himself for art, and to have material to create his art. And when he was done, he left
    2) Bly makes it clear that though this novel is based on his life, it is not an autobiography. Hamsun was starving on and off for 10 years, trying to make it as a writer. He did 2 stints working in the US, each of multiple years, during those 10 years. Bly suggests his unusual writing style (obvious in Norwegian, not in the translation) was caused by his time spent in the US. After Hunger was published, he was not hungry again.

    So--did he starve on purpose as art? Or was he a 19th century "starving artist" trying to succeed at his chosen craft, taking other jobs as needed to live?

    Anyway, this book does not read like a 19th century book at all. It feels much more mid 20th century, as there is not a plot exactly. He's not telling a story per se--he's telling about what it's like to be a struggling writer in Christiania, with no family help, friends as down as you, and what that is like.
  • (4/5)
    Hunger by Knut Hamsun is a loosely autobiographical novel about a young man down on his luck, starving to death and the slow decline as he sells off bits and pieces of his life to the Uncle. While he wanders about the town he runs into several characters. This unnamed narrator is quite proud and can barely allow anyone to help him. He would rather give away than receive. It reminded me a bit of Dostoyevsky and also a bit of Ulysses as the main character wanders about the town meeting up with various people. This is a turn of the century psychological driven novel and explores the irrationality of the mind. Of Christiana (Oslo) the protagonist states, “no man departs without carrying away the traces of his sojourn there. The contrast is the outer respectability, mental and physical decay. Symbols of the decay are the words starved, winding sheets, Autumn, die, room compared to a sinister coffin. The winding sheets (for wrapping the deceased body) repeats several times.
  • (3/5)
    What a rollercoaster! Reading this book took a lot out of me. Not because it's hard to read, but because the main character's (unnamed) constant changes in mood. He'll be riding on clouds at first, then he's acting as if he's the scourge of the earth. You really get caught up in it, and that all points back to the author's ability. The ending was a little abiguous to me, though. I don't like leaving my characters to an uncertain future.
  • (5/5)
    Before Jay McInerney, J.D. Salinger and Albert Camus came Knut Hamsun. Hunger is a masterpeice study of human nature and the absurdity of life. This book is #1 on my all time favorites list.
  • (5/5)
    What an engaging feverish read! This novel does not read like it's 130 years old nor like it was translated. Very quick easy read, a page turner despite there being essentially no plot. The unnamed main character narrator borders on being annoying and exasperating, but in the end I felt mostly sympathy for him. Clearly mentally ill and constantly struggling with poverty and starvation, he makes one bad decision after another but it seems they derive largely from his last attempts to hold onto dignity and self-respect. A timely or maybe timeless tale.