The Wanderer
Knut Hamsun, translated by Oliver and Gunnvor Stallybrass
Farrar 281 pp. $7.95

The Wanderer is the latest addition to the Knut Hamsun revival, a puzzling phenomenon which in recent years has led to the reissue of Hamsun’s early “classics,” of which only one, Hunger, has any enduring significance. Hamsun obviously has a public, particularly among young Americans; but to read his books is to wonder why.

Knut Hamsun never wrote a book called The Wanderer. Appearing under this title are two closely related novels, Under the Autumn Star and On Muted Strings, which describe the peregrinations of a middle-aged déraciné who cannot endure modern industrial society where the “lords of the proletariat are tremendous swells; they look down on the farm worker and don’t want him anywhere near them.” Knut Pedersen (Hamsun’s real name) makes his living as an itinerant laborer, moving from farm to farm and generally just earning enough to keep himself afloat. Yet both books make clear that Pedersen has seen better days; he is an educated, extremely reflective man given to continuous brooding about the  beauty of the past and the ugliness of the present. Herein lies, however, the hero’s principal weakness:  he constantly misunderstands the import of his own thoughts. Pedersen believes that he prefers the country to the city, the farmer to the factory worker, whereas in fact he looks down on both. His occasional companion Grindhusen is dirty and insensitive; and a farmer he sees during one of his rare sojourns in town is scarcely distinguishable from the animal which accompanies him. What Pedersen is really fleeing from is people; he is uncomfortable with any complex human relationship and most at ease amid people he can scorn.

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