37 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Growth of the Soil
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...
Published on 22 Oct. 2007 by Damian Kelleher
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars terrible translation
All those positive things people have said might well be true, but I am not spending another minute on this translation.
Published 20 months ago by Em Sharwood Smith
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37 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Growth of the Soil,
This review is from: Growth of the Soil (Penguin Classics) (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. He clearly represents the corrupting forces of too much literacy, too much culture. Eleseus drains Isak's money, buying frivolities like umbrellas and alcohol.
Hamsun writes as though we are reading one giant parable. The novel is a huge fairy tale of a way of life that the author agrees with on so many levels that it is impossible to disagree with the text as it stands. Hamsun writes so persuasively of the positive qualities of life attached to the land, but what is more appealing is that he does not openly criticise Eleseus' - and other's - choices. No, he reveals the mistakes that people make, but he offsets that with Isak's sheer goodness, leaving the reader to come to the only conclusion possible - Isak's way of life is the way that life is meant to be lived. This is subtle grand-standing on the part of the author, but it works.
The novel attains a timeless quality by the way in which tense is used. Sometimes, characters will act and speak in present tense. 'Isak says', 'Oline walks', etc. Other times, descriptions will be past tense - and these change about within the same paragraph, page, chapter. A poor writer would create a nightmare of tense shifting confusion with such a technique, but Hamsun manages to control the ebb and flow of the text. He is crafting a story that, by way of its telling, is not bound within the specificities of a now or a then.
Near the end of the novel, Hamsun's message becomes clear. We have experienced the growth of their lives - the growth of the world, perhaps? - and it is time for us to understand the message behind at all. He writes with a clarity and urgency that is missing from the rest of the text. We, the reader, have been persuaded by the goodness inherent in Isak's life. We become receptive to the message: 'Growth of the soil was something different, a thing to be procured at any cost; the only source, the origin of all. A dull and desolate existence? Nay, least of all. A man had everything; his powers above, his dreams, his loves, his wealth of superstition.'
It is interesting to note that in a novel so concerned with the toiling man, there is little religion throughout the text. It would be easy for Hamsun to rely too heavily on divine providence as a tool for progressing the narrative. To his credit, he does not. Instead the earth itself, the land, becomes a God, not worshiped but endured, not praised but absolutely essential to the survival and well-being of the characters. Isak may not say out loud that he loves the land, but it is a part of him, a necessary facet of his life. Without the land, the people are nothing, they have nothing and can produce nothing.
There is a scene towards the end of the novel that resonates with the truth of the entire work. Isak is an older man now, not as strong as he would like, but not yet old enough to give over his farm to his sons. There is a large stone on his property which he begins to dig out. He digs, and then attempts to shift it. No luck. He digs deeper, avoiding the necessity of blasting the stone. No luck. Eventually, his wife helps him move the stone, and it is here that Isak realises his worth as a man lies almost entirely with his strength. What is there apart from that? A man's worth is beholden to the strength of his arm - when that fails, so to does the man. It is a sad scene, but one which encapsulates the themes with which Growth of the Soil is concerned. Our strength - be it intellectual, muscular or otherwise - will one day fade, no matter its previous breadth or depth. As adults, it is our duty to discover that for which we are most aligned, our strength, as it were. We must accomplish whatever it is that our natural strengths and weaknesses demand, but we must not define ourselves as such. For when strengths fade, and weaknesses overtake, what is their left of ourselves but a definition of then and not now? We become a crumbled shell, an empty carapace. Our strengths are important, but there must be a greater importance beyond ourselves once those strengths have faded. Hamsun's Growth of the Soil suggests that this greater strength is the legacy we leave, the children we raise, the land we tender. It is a conservative, earthy, tender message, but one which bears taking heed.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rich and human,
I haven't read any Hamsun before - was intrigued by an article in the paper about his writing.
Found this a most satisfying and fulfilling read. The characterization is perhaps the strongest feature - here are men and women hewn out of living rock; they possess a timeless truth. We see the effects of life experience, fortune and disappointment impact on each. There is tension between the basics of life (working hard on the land to fill your belly/soul) and the effects of "civilization" (detachment from the land) - my sense was that for every "advancement" Isak encountered to make life easier or profit greater - for example the arrival of the mowing machines- there was a diminishing of his true nature.
The novel reads like it has been grafted onto something far older and deeper in the reader's psyche - Norse myth didn't seem far away - I kept thinking of the enigmatic Geissler character, who can make or break the lives of others at a whim, as a Trickster type being, popping up at times of his choosing. There's a strong moral component too, but even this is mutable - compare the treatment of infanticide as the years pass between Inger and Barbro's experiences. There's the sense of life being a cycle - both of the individual characters and of wider society.
Thought provoking, well worth a read.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Scandanavian Masterpiece,
By A Customer
Few books of the 20th century can match the scope and vision of this great novel. Hamsun is sending out a rallying cry to the rapidly diminishing rural populations of Europe in the midst of the industrial post-WW1 years.Even remote Northern Norway is touched in this novel by the balance sheets and speculators of the urban world. Hamsun shows how alien these concerns are to a man like Isak Selenraa, tied to the land and his young family, it is the rural people who triumph here, the urban dwellers who are restless and unsettled. Characters flit in and out of the novel, the mysterious Giessler "i am the fog",the scheming old maid Oline and the foolish Brede.Hamsun captures the last rural communities of Norway in rich technicolour, his characters and narrative make him the Scandanavian Thomas Hardy
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written simple read,
Each sentence in this book is so simply and plainly put but as a whole builds a complex and extremely interesting story of settling in rural Norway. I would hate to think that I would put anyone off by this next sentence but it reminded me of 'the Little house on the Prairie'. Not the twee TV series but the books of genuine simplistic accounts of land development upon new and uninhabited land.
Truly satisfying read. Loved it to bits.
5.0 out of 5 stars 'a tiller of the ground, body and soul; a worker on the land without respite.',
For the first couple of pages I didn't think I could get into this style of writing: Hamsun looking on, writing in at times an almost Biblical style, remaining impartial and not voicing his characters' emotions. And yet I quickly realised he was achieving great literature through this simple style, and the people still become vividly and movingly alive.
We begin with Isak's first steps to create a home in the Norwegian wilds:
'The wilderness was inhabited and unrecognizable, a blessing had come upon it, life had arisen there from a long dream, human creatures lived there, children played about the houses. And the forest stretched away, big and kindly, right up to the blue heights.'
He finds a woman, initially a simple soul, whom life gradually makes more complex.
Gradually other settlers move in - the idle, the industrious, the promiscuous; and the self-seeking Oline
'Never in life would she give in and never her match for turning and twisting heaven and earth to a medley of seeming kindness and malice, poison and senseless words.'
One of the most enigmatic characters is Geissler, originally introduced as a decent official with whom Isak has dealings; he helps him at other times and made me wonder if Hamsun was equating him to a divinity ?
'I'm something, I'm the fog as it were, here and there, floating around, sometimes coming like rain on dry ground... There's my son, the lightening'
A beautiful celebration of the rural life:
'Nothing growing there? All things growing there; men and beasts and fruit of the soil. Isak sowing his corn. The evening sunlight falls on the corn that flashes out in an arc from his hand and falls like a dropping of gold to the ground. Here comes Sivert to the harrowing...Forest and field look on. All is majesty and power - a sequence and purpose of things.'
5.0 out of 5 stars Creatures of the earth, not masters of it.,
An absolute classic. On a par with ' Far From the Madding Crowd' by Thomas Hardy.
The book chronicles the lives of country folk in late nineteenth century Norway and contrasts a deep rooted connection with the soil with the newly emerging shallow materialism and pomposity of urban life. Selfless sacrifce versus self importance and pretence. Humility versus egotism and the futility of human conceit.
The acceptance and joy of human inconsequence provide Hamsun with a connection to the soil that is even beyond spirituality.
Add to this Hamsuns unique understanding of the human psyche and artful character development and you have a classic of modern literature.
5.0 out of 5 stars Simple but evocative,
This is a simply written but evocative story which relates how Isak, an honest and straightforward man, builds up his farm from scratch in the harsh mountains. As well as painting a picture of how back-breaking life must have been for the majority of the population in Norway, it also reveals the social attitudes of the time. I was so pleased that I took this with me on holiday to Norway: as I gawped at the awe-inspiring scenery, I was able to imagine Isak, his family, and neighbours, all toiling away on the slopes. It put everything into context.
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read worth more than 5 stars,
All the other reviewers have covered what I want to say, I just wanted to add some well deserved stars!
This is up there with the great classics, walden, Moby Dick, Anna Karenina, Les Miserables, to name just a few. I downloaded on my kindle as it was a book group suggestion but for once I will buy a copy to have on the shelve as well as gifting it to friends.
I will repeat that this is a good translation and it is a very readable book, beautifully written. Make time for it. You will be rewarded.
5.0 out of 5 stars A magical description of rural life,
In a simple and brilliant prose, we follow passionately, Isak, a hardworker of the land in the Wilderness in Norway and how he creates a home. Gradually, social and deeply earth-born characters settle around him. He finds a woman and life's cycle begins naturally. Undoubtedly, the urban inhabitants, stressed and restless are overcome by the unsophisticated rural people.
Knut Hamsun is indeed, one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful tale of simple goals and ultimate successes.,
By A Customer
The simple prose of this book follows the pragmatic path thatthe protagonist (Isak) plies. The simple goals in Isak's life are as stable as the Norwegian stones he farms amoung. He watches as those going for the golden ring falter, yet he in the end succeeds in his own way. Isak's description of his first meeting of the woman who would become his wife is a classic. Beautifully told, it is a book that you may have to work through to finish but you will feel good in the end. The moral of the book will live with you.
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Growth of the Soil by Knut Hamsun (Mass Market Paperback - May 1972)
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