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On Overgrown Paths

Knut Hamsun

Translated from the Norwegian, with Notes by Sverre Lyngstad

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Price: U.S. $13.95
Knut Hamsun
On Overgrown Paths
Series No.: 022
ISBN: 978-1-892295-10-1, Pages: 231
Norwegian Literature, Memoir

Author winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature

On Overgrown Paths was written after World War II, at a time when Hamsun was in police custody for his openly expressed Nazi sympathies during the German occupation of Norway, 1940-45. A Nobel laureate deeply beloved by his countrymen, Hamsun was now reviled as a traitor—as long as his sanity was not called into question.

However, the psychiatric report declared him to be sane, but concluded that his mental faculties were "permanently impaired." This conclusion was emphatically refuted by the publication, in 1949, of On Overgrown Paths, Hamsun's apologia. In its creative élan, this book, filled with the proud sorrow of an old man, miraculously recalls the spirit of Hamsun's early novels, with their reverence for nature, absurdist humor, and quirky flights of fancy.

This edition is the first authoritative English translation of Hamsun's last work, a work which stood at the center of the recent film Hamsun.

Also by Knut Hamsun:
A Wanderer Plays on Muted Strings, Out of Stock
The Last Joy, Out of Stock
The Women at the Pump [Sun & Moon], Out of Stock
Victoria [Sun & Moon], Out of Stock

Book Review(s)


by Thomas Hove

This swan-song memoir is the latest of Sverre Lyngstad's admirable translations of Hamsun's work into English, all of which vividly convey both the rawness and the lyricism of Hamsun's style and the abrupt, random shifts of his narrator's moods. On Overgrown Paths documents the events and memories of Hamsun's life during his 1945-1948 confinement and trial for his Nazi affiliations in World War II. Except for some brief details of his arrest and trial, Hamsun commeants very little on the political climate of Norway's postwar years.

He does, however, include a transcript of his defense speech, which is a fascinating account of the insoluble conflict of obli- gations he faced and a muted challenge to his accusers' self-exulpatory scapegoating impulses. But most of this memoir dispenses with self- vindication and instead reads like one of Hamsun's early novels, meander- ing through the random everyday events of his life: encounters (sometimes politically charged, sometimes not) with ordinary Norwegians; meditations on nature's beauty; bittersweet memories of youthful friendship and romance; and, above all, world-weary assessments of life, chance, and the individual's place in history.

Hamsun constantly notes that, no matter what happens in the political sphere, the ultimate problem of existence is one's private rendezvous with death. Whether or not we feel we can judge Hamsun's moral and political failings, or excuse his indirect complicity with the Holocaust, or accept his peculiar combination of nationalism and fatalism, this memoir, like act 5 of Hamlet or the philosophy of Schopenhauer, is the disturbingly conforting testament of a man who is utterly fed up with existence but has learned to accept its inevitable disappointments and in- justices. "But let us not turn tragical in our disappointment," he says in a variety of ways. "The whole thing isn't worth that much."

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