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Growth of the Soil (Penguin Classics) Paperback – September 25, 2007

4.5 out of 5 stars 65 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From The New Yorker

When Hamsun won the Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1920, it was mostly because of this 1917 novel, an epic vision of peasant life in Norway’s backcountry. The saga of Isak and Inger (born with a harelip) and their hard times is by turns affecting and ponderous; the somewhat overheated first-person narrators of Hamsun’s extraordinary early novels—"Hunger" and "Pan"—are replaced by a stately, almost distant third person. Yet Hamsun’s eye and ear were still sharp; even his trees have special qualities ("Everybody knows that aspens can have an unpleasant, bullying way of rustling"). In this overdue new version, Lyngstad, Hamsun’s heroic translator, splendidly captures the author’s voice as he guides his large cast into the stresses of the modern age.
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Review

"Growth of the Soil impresses me as among the very greatest novels I have ever read. It is wholly beautiful; it is saturated with wisdom and humor and tenderness."
-H. G. Wells

"The whole modern school of fiction in the twentieth century stems from Hamsun."
-Isaac Bashevis Singer
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The latest book club pick from Oprah
"The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead is a magnificent novel chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. See more

Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (September 25, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143105108
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143105107
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #102,661 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Mass Market Paperback
People have different opinions of which was the greatest of Knut Hamsun's novels, and very often one of the works from the 1890s will range highest. People also have a lot to say about Hamsun's terms with Nazi-Germany and which made the common Norwegian to see him as a betrayer. He was their greatest hero, up there with King Haakon and Fridtjof Nansen. All these circumstances are more complex to be drawn up here, so let's stay with the fact that Hamsun was one of the greatest and most influential authors of all time. "Growth of the Soil" is the book that secured him the Nobel Prize for literature in 1920, the book the common man of the day valued more than any other of his works, the book that the Germans had printed in "field-editions" to send with their soldiers to the fronts. But this is not an ideally portrait of the values in life - it is a very accurate description of how the life was in the outback for these early settlers, how extremely simple they were. It was not because they had achieved a great understanding of the meaning of life, readers in that belief are totally wrong. They had no choice, were not on terms with their inner-self at all, did not know comfort and beautiful music, could not afford to be fastidious. I can't think of any other book in world literature that comes anywhere near "Growth of the Soil" in portraying these simple, unsophisticated people breaking the land and struggle to live. I am sure this could be the life story of several of my ancestors in North-Norway, the diaries of their lives, but they (like Isak) could not read or write or tell their story. Instead Knut Hamsun has done it with such wisdom, humour and tenderness and most of all his great talent, that in many respects this is his best work
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By A Customer on December 21, 1999
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I picked up this novel many years ago, unfamiliar with its history or the Nazi associations of the author, and began reading it during one of the bleakest periods of my life. I found great comfort in the humanity of the characters, their imperfections, their struggles with nature, with each other and with themselves. Knut Hamsun did not turn away from the dark side of human nature. He accepted it. This is not a literary review, just a heartfelt one for a book that was able to reach out across time and provide enlightenment and comfort.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
This book is in my top-twenty list of 20th-century novels. I can't fathom how anyone with any literary sense could call the prose "stilted." Simple, yes, prosaic, perhaps; but spare and lean does not mean devoid of grace. Hemingway strove all his life to write this way. And let's not forget, Henry Miller held Hamsun and Celine (another politically incorrect master-novelist) in the highest possible regard and wrote that they both influenced him greatly. I cannot recommend this novel highly enough to anyone who loves literature. As far as the political context is concerned, let's remember that Zubin Mehta performed Wagner in Israel after a long ban and received an enthusiastic reception. I'm a little weary of those politically sensitive souls that want to remove Twain from school reading lists and find Shakespeare too chauvenistic, etc. etc. I certainly can find no evidence of Hamsun's political views expressed in any of his novels. Give this one a chance and decide for yourself. Don't be put off by the thought-police.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
Growth of the Soil begins in the wilderness. There is a man, 'A strong, coarse fellow, with a red iron beard...'. He seeks a woman to help bear the burden of his new home, built in the wilds, miles away from the nearest town. Nobody is interested - they believe the man, Isak, is too much of a loner. They believe he has chosen poor land, with little potential.

Finally, Inger arrives. She is disfigured, a cast-off, ridiculed in the village for her appearance. Isak is happy with her if she is able to work - and she can. Thus one man becomes a couple, thus a life begins.

Soon, there are children. The farm grows. Buildings are added, animals are born. What was once a wilderness becomes tendered, tamed. Isak stubbornly works at the soil, harnessing its potential, cajoling food and life from the ground.

Growth of the Soil is not a novel based on plot. No, instead we experience the steady growth of Isak's farm, christened Sellanraa. Attached to this growth is Isak's family, as well as the surrounding area. What begins as a wilderness ends as a moderately prosperous community on the cusp of becoming a town.

We are presented most obviously with an allegory of man's rise from nothing into civilisation. We begin with a lone man and his wife, we end with writing, with culture, with mistakes and with money. A good chunk of the novel at the beginning is virtually devoid of dialogue - most of the end is rife with it. Similarly, money does not play a part until midway, and then it becomes a major focus for everyone except Isak.

There are villains, but only if we consider villains as being people who do not directly follow Isak's way of life. His son, Eleseus, after tasting the refined morsels of town life, becomes useless around the farm.
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