Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Fistful of Reads 2015: Hunger


February has come to a close, and my New Years' resolution to read a book a month has lasted yet another month, so yay for me!  I also want to thank the bloggers who continued this month to play along, and we have a new one too!  We'll start with links to their reviews first.

Chris reviews A Thousand Years of Good Prayers by Yiyun Li

Bubbawheat reviews The Heart Does Not Grow Back by Fred Venturini


And now, for mine:



Some stories you feel in the pit of your stomach.  This almost feels like a gimmicky way to describe a novel entitled ‘Hunger’, but the truth of the matter is that Knut Hamsun’s lauded classic is a story that very much hits you in the gut, and lingers there.  The sweeping passages (and yes, they are sweeping) pull you into this frame of mind that is ultimately unnerving, because the intensity of our narrator’s progressive state of health, mental and physical, is almost overwhelming in nature.

‘Hunger’ is a semi-autobiography, a story that is ripped from the author’s own life and experiences, and so because of that there is a deep-rooted authenticity to a lot of what we read here.  The story revolves around an unnamed man who happens to be a struggling author, wandering the streets looking for food and inspiration.  Through his journey, his seemingly aimless wandering, he meets and interacts with a variety of people, but mostly he just increasingly loses his touch, his mental awareness and eventually things come to a head.

I’ve read quite a few ‘translated’ novels, and this is something that is always tricky because translations vary and quite frankly, some of the impact is lost in translation.  I’ve read some truly awful translations (most notably was ‘The Box’ by Gunter Grass) and some really great ones.  Now, I obviously don’t know the languages from which these are translated, and so the only way that I can judge how well something has been translated is to gage how well the story flows, how the language feels in my mouth, and some of these translators botch their work so much I want to punch them in the face.  I didn’t feel that way about ‘Hunger’.  For the most part, these elongated passages of wandering and wondering are handled with a mastery of language.  While there really is nothing to the actual plot of this story, for this is not a plot driven narrative, you feel very much a part of the core of this book.  Every page is, for the most part, engaging and fleshed out.

My slight quibble with the book is that, because of the nature of the narrative and the lack of actual plot, the story does become a case of progressive redundancy.  Many of the passages repeat similar steps, adding in a new level of desperation and peppering in these segments with some differences in language, but overall it does start to feel too similar.

Being so personally driven, I feel like I’m receiving a part of this man’s soul as I read about the desperation of his struggle.  There is a passage near the center of the book (page 92 in my translation) where he curses the heavens for his state, and it’s so heartbreaking in its composition that I’m left in a near puddle due to the honesty, the ragingly brutal rawness of it all.  You can feel the agony dripping from every word, and because of that the story beats you in the heart.

Is it perfect?  No.  Is it important?  Very.  

12 comments:

  1. Thanks for the link!
    I actually love the film adaptation of Hunger from 1966, the lead performance by Per Oscarsson is one of my favorites of all-time. I have the book on my shelf, so curious to check it out at some point! Since it's only about 130 pages, I have no excuse :) Glad you felt the english translation was acceptable.

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    1. So welcome Chris! I had no idea that there was a film adaptation for this. Now I really want to see it, since you recommend it so strongly.

      You should check this out. I'll warn you, as I mentioned in the review, the passages can become repetitive, which can make that 130 pages feel a bit...longer...but overall, this is a really important novel!

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  2. Oh, you did it too! I just did mine today lol.
    Haven't heard of this one anyway (poor me!)... gonna check it soon!

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    1. Yay, you did another 'Adapted' post! I am going to post my 'Fistful of Reads' post on the last day of every month, so if you get your 'Adapted' post up before that, send me a link and I'll post it with these every month too :-D

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  3. It sounds like this man had an interesting, if not, difficult life. I commend you to be able to see all the films, post as much as you and read a book a month never mind trying to work full time and family life and so on...

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  4. I think being a good translator must be difficult, requiring a particular set of skills. You not only have to have facility with several languages -- which I'm in awe of, never having made it through Rosetta Stone German *LOL* -- you have to have a knack for reflecting an author's unique style and be a skilled writer in your own right.

    This book does sound amazing -- I need to check it out. Thanks for the links!

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    1. Yeah, and it's almost a thankless job because there are countless people who will criticize and tear your work apart.

      I hope you can check it out, and you're more than welcome for the links!

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  5. I said I was going to get in on this. I need to get on it.

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  6. You should check out the film version, as Chris mentioned. It currently gets 5 CinSpec nods, including Best Picture and Best Actor. ;)

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