I didn’t expect to read “Hunger”, cover to cover, on Thanksgiving. Sometimes a book surprises you, bringing you along, making it impossible to put down. It is fitting, though, perhaps, given the subject matter, the day and the state of things.

Hunger. I don’t know many people who know what real hunger is. Neither do you. The different phases of need; what it does to the body first and then the mind. The madness of hunger, the irrational bizarre behavior accentuated by the gaunt expression. The specter of hunger is haunting the world these days. Afghanistan, a hunger that is shameful not for the Afghans but for the Americans. We abandoned them. Being able to solve their hunger – having done so, and worse, having promised to continue to do so we got bored and walked away. For shame. Ethiopia, Venezuela, Nigeria, Yemen. Places I’ve been.

I remember my first experience with hunger, real hunger. Working in North Kivu province of Congo during the great war. I was running 60 feeding centers (50 supplementary and 10 therapeutic). The therapeutic were by far the worst. In rundown old abandoned Belgian hospitals mostly. Dozens, sometimes more than 100 children, in beds under mosquito nets – you could hear a pin drop. Starving babies don’t cry. They sit there, swollen, staring – ‘why?’ the only question, though they don’t even know they are asking it. ‘Why?’ – a question for which there is no answer.

I read “Hunger” cover to cover on Thanksgiving. It was right to do so, this year. The story, Knut Hamsun’s masterpiece – for which he won the Nobel Prize in literature 100 years ago. Auto-biographical, a starving man in Oslo during the days when Europe went hungry; because how else could he have understood the humiliation of hunger and the struggle of a proud man against such wicked privation? Unless he had lived it? It reminded me of the most important thing on Thanksgiving – to be thankful. Not jealous and greedy, emotions that inspire whole political movements and lead to – wait for it – hunger. But thankful for our daily bread, the opportunity to have a warm place away from the elements, and a nice little meal on Thanksgiving.

For but by the grace of God, there go I.

About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright. His most recently released work is "Dreams of the Defeated: A Play in Two Acts" about a political prisoner in a dystopian regime. His novels include "I, Charles, From the Camps" about the life of a young man in the African camps and "Lords of Misrule" about the making and unmaking of a jihadist in the Sahara. "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio" are about the rise and fall of socialist Venezuela (with magic).
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