Several months ago the host of a Norwegian television program visited the Penguin offices to interview various Penguin representatives for a show about Sigrid Undset, whose novel Kristin Lavransdatter we'd recently published in an award-winning new translation by Tiina Nunnally and selected for discussion in the newly launched Penguin Classics Reading Group. Toward the end of the interview, the show's host asked us which of Norway's two most famous writersboth winners of the Nobel Prize in Literaturewe thought was better: Sigrid Undset or Knut Hamsun. Not ones to play favorites with our authors, we're happy to be able to point to several novels by Knut Hamsun on the Penguin Classics list, and to announce that this month we're publishing the first new translation of Hamsun's Growth of the Soil since the book's original publication ninety years ago.
When it was published in 1917, Growth of the Soil was immediately recognized as a masterpiece, and it's widely thought to have clinched the Nobel Prize for Hamsun. It's a novel that might be considered an anthem for the environmental movement, and for agrarian values and simple livingeven a kind of fictional counterpart to Thoreau's Walden. At its center is Isak, who leaves his village for the untilled tracts of the Norwegian back country, where he works the land by hand, builds a home, marries, fathers children, and prospers, while the world around him changes. By the novel's end, the land Isak has cleared is strewn with telegraph wires, and the inexorable march of "progress" is everywhere around him.
Our new translation is by the distinguished Hamsun scholar Sverre Lyngstad, who has translated four of Hamsun's other novels for Penguin Classics over the past ten years: Hunger, Mysteries, Pan, and Victoria. Featuring a new introduction by Brad Leithauser, the MacArthur Prize-winning poet, novelist, and frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books who was honored by the president of Iceland for his writings about Nordic literature, this new edition of Growth of the Soil makes Penguin Classics the principal publisher of Hamsun in English. And it brings to five the number of Hamsun volumes we publishthe same number as Sigrid Undset, proving once and for all that at Penguin Classics, we love our Norwegian authors equally.
To watch the Penguin Classics editors discuss Sigrid Undset on Norwegian television, click here.
Have suggestions for other Norwegian or Scandinavian classics? Write to us here.