I used to live next door to a woman from Norway. Once when I mentioned my admiration for Norwegian novelist Knut Hamsun, she corrected my pronunciation of his first name from “Newt” to “Ka-newt” – yes you pronounce the “K.” Am I the only American who didn’t know this?

I first learned of Hamsun’s novel Hunger years ago when a colleague at an ad agency recommended it (yes, some people who work in advertising have souls!). As soon as I read Hunger, the novel ranked among my top-five favorite books. I reread it every few years and each time get caught up in the protagonist’s story as if reading about this starving writer for the first time. Here is the opening line:

It was in those days when I wandered about hungry in Kristiania, that strange city which no one leaves before it has set its mark upon him.”

Hamsun’s work had a huge influence on some of the 20th century’s leading novelists. Here are some of their words:

 “Hamsun taught me to write.” ERNEST HEMINGWAY

 “I told her that Knut Hamsun had been the world’s greatest writer.” CHARLES BUKOWSKI, Women

“Please God, please Knut Hamsun, don’t desert me…” JOHN FANTE, Dreams of Bunker Hill

In 1920, Hamsun won the Nobel Prize for Literature. He lived to the great age of 92, passing away in 1952. Toward the end of his life, Hamsun suffered from a form of dementia that caused him to make political statements where it’s unlikely he knew what he was saying. Let’s forgive and forget.

Knut Hamsun invented the modern novel, and has been praised by legions of our finest writers for his innovations – such as stream of consciousness and interior monologue – that bring the protagonist to vivid life and allow readers to know the story’s hero to the bottom of his soul.

Photo: Clancy & Knut  (copy of Hunger purchased at thrift store for $1)