25 October 07 | Chad W. Post

Benjamin Ivry has a very interesting piece in today’s New York Sun on the new translation of Knut Hamsun’s Growth of the Soil:

“Growth of the Soil,” one of these later works, tells of a peasant, Isak, and his harelipped wife Inger, who strangles her infant daughter after she is born with her own harelip. Their life is narrated with Olympian disdain, but occasionally a kind of grudging admiration peeps through the irony: “Two lonely people, ill-favored and all too lusty, but a boon to each other, to the animals, and to the earth!” Hamsun juxtaposes scornful comments about Isak’s “dense naiveté” with sibylline observations like “The years pass quickly, do they? Yes, for the one who is growing old.” “Growth of the Soil” is as gloomy as anything written by the Belgian author Maurice Maeterlinck, and yet a posturing preface to the new edition by the American poet Brad Leithauser bizarrely likens “Growth of the Soil” to “Robinson Crusoe,” because both books supposedly extol “husbandry.”

I have a copy of this new Penguin edition, which I’m really looking forward to reading, despite the issues Ivry takes with the translation itself (which, to me, are all legit complaints):

Yet the new translation by Mr. Lyngstad has its own problems. With the lumpy, bruised prose rhythms of a non-native English speaker, the Penguin Classics translation has a cranky, pedantic air, such as when a “brooding ptarmigan” is repeatedly referred to; the 1920 translation refers to a “grouse,” a more recognizable term for non-ornithologists. Likewise, Mr. Lyngstad describes Inger as wearing “pattens,” whereas synonyms like “clogs,” “sandals,” and “overshoes” are more comprehensible for English readers. A homemade remedy is described as “old people’s theriac” instead of “cure-all” or “panacea.”

Still, as superficial as this may be, I’m interested in reading the Penguin Classics version because it’s so much prettier and reader-friendly than the crappy, dated-looking Vintage mass market edition.


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