rating: 4 of 5 stars
Of all the stuff I read in college, nothing lasted longer with me than Knut Hamsun's Hunger, and with stops and starts over the years I've tried his other books without ever finishing them. Then I read somewhere that John Fante got the title or the idea for Ask the Dust, one of my favorite books ever, from Hamsun's Pan, and that was enough for me.
This is a spectacular little book, a hair over 100 pages in the lovely edition I got form the library complete with woodcut illustrations, documenting a season of a narcissist spends hunting in the frozen wastes of upper Norway and how the hearts of the people burn through all that ice. The protagonist is almost categorically unsympathetic, the dialog a little antiquated, the secondary characters a little one-dimensional, yet it all comes together as the way the world does in the mind, pieces cut large and kicked into place so that they fit in our own particular puzzles.
Knut Hamsun seems to have been a terrible person, a Nazi sympathizer so pronounced that in 1943 he sent Goebbels his 1920 Nobel Prize medal as a gift. And yet, in Pan, he reconciles uncomfortable people in a harrowing landscape and reveals the richness of their humanity, the common spark that illuminates us all from within.
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