Growth of the Soil by Knut Hamson

Growth of the Soil by Knut Hamson 1

Growth of the Soil is a novel by Nobel laureate Knut Hamsun, first published in Norway in 1917. The story revolves around the life of Isak, a young man who leaves his village to venture into the wilderness and establish a farm. The novel explores themes of back-to-nature philosophies, old-school values, and peasant life, setting simple agrarian values against those of industrial society. Hamsun’s work shows a deep aversion to civilization, suggesting that people’s fulfillment lies with the soil.

The story follows Isak as he builds a shack, clears land, plants crops, and gradually develops a successful farm. He marries Inger, and they have two sons, Eleseus and Sivert. The family’s life is marked by hard work, perseverance, and a deep connection to the land. As the village nearby grows more dependent on Isak’s farm for resources, his wealth and respect within the community increase.

In contrast to Isak’s simple and fulfilling life, the novel also explores the world of copper mining, which brings wealth to the area but is driven by profit and exploitation. This conflict between the idealized life of Isak and his family and the harsh realities of capitalist society serves as a central theme in the novel.

What I Liked

I picked this book up after looking into Norway after meeting a group of Norwegians while backpacking in Alaska. This book is like the national novel of Norway – or sort of like Norway’s version of Huck Finn to the US.

And yeah – it is very Norwegian. But it’s also pretty universal. I liked how it navigated the themes of transitioning from one type of economy to another. I think there are lessons for even today as we transition from a service economy to a (???) economy.

The book reminded me a lot of of East of Eden by John Steinbeck (which is one of my favorite novels). The writing is right on; the characters are memorable; and the plot is interesting. It’s an all around solid novel.

Also! It’s in the public domain, so you can grab it for free from Gutenberg, LibreVox, or Standard eBooks.

What I Did Not Like

It’s very Norwegian. I get why it’s their well-known novel. And like Huck Finn, I feel like there’s a lot of subtext that I missed since I’m not familiar with their landscape or life.

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