Over the years, I’ve discovered writers who take you into the very heart of Humankind: which means they really took me into the living heart of all of Nature. First, Charles G D Roberts. Then Grey Owl. Farley Mowat.
Adventure writers (most of ’em were writing before I was born) like Edgar Rice Burroughs, George Marsh, Tolkien, Will Henry, Andre Norton…
Later, Henry Williamson. And Knut Hamsun.
I’ve just re-read Knut Hamsun’s GROWTH OF THE SOIL after maybe fifty years (a brand new shiny copy from Penguin Classics). And that wonder of working the hard land all came back. Why I took so long to re-read SOIL, I don’t know. At the same time I discovered Hamsun, I also discovered Edgar Pangborn, but I dip into a few pages of DAVY with wondering regularity.
I don’t remember what led me to first pick up that copy of SOIL. Not because the author had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1920. Didn’t know then that SOIL had been a favourite of der Führer (if I had, I would have put it back, out of love and respect for my father and all the other War vets I grew up with as a boy). Didn’t know that he had been praised by Hermann Hesse, Ernest Hemingway and Isaac Bashevis Singer. In fact, I didn’t know anything about Knut Hamsun. I’m just glad that I discovered that book when I did. Took it down from the shelf. Opened to the first page…
I grew up with forest lands and pastures and horses and barns — helping (and loving it) when I could. And when I first read Hamsun’s simple words, I was hooked: “A man comes walking north. He carries a sack, the first sack, containing provisions for the road and some implements. The man is strong and rough-hewn…”
GROWTH OF THE SOIL isn’t about heroic battle, which our pop culture loves. No – it’s about heroic Work. Every country boy and girl who grew up watching father and mother working the green lands, and working hard, feels the power of Hamsun’s words.
And is gently shaken by the ending: “She walks slowly about her house, tall and stately, a vestal lighting a fire in the stove. Well and good. Inger has sailed on the high seas and lived in the City, now she is home again. The world is wide, swarming with tiny dots. Inger has swarmed with the rest. She was next to nothing among those living beings, just one…
“Then comes the evening.”
Knut Hamsun’s GROWTH OF THE SOIL isn’t so much about us as it is the story of where we all came from. Our ancestors. And about our deepest yearning for a simple and loving Homecoming.
FIVE STARS, all right.