Hunger. Not just nutritional hunger. Hunger for life, for excitement, for change, for passion. Hunger – a devastating feeling of vacuum, as if something vital for living is missing. Hunger – takes away your soul and your personality and turns you into a shadow of a human being. What would we do without hunger? Hunger is the driving force in the universe, something that prompts people to search for greater possibilities, to abandon their trivial existence and to fight for something more instead. People that do not experience hunger are doomed. They can never feel the painful need of something, they can never be obsessed with an idea, and they can never desire fireworks. They are bored. They just exist because the driver of change has been taken away from them. Abundance is destructive. Hunger is constructive.
Amelie Nothomb, the somewhat weird Belgian writer, discusses the nature of hunger in her novel The Life of Hunger. She starts by giving a short description of hunger and why it is so important. Without nutritional hunger, there can never be anything. Satiety kills ambition, drive, strength, desire. Wars, conquests, struggles, all have been caused by hunger. Starving people are the strongest people. They know something is missing inside of them, they feel the painful contractions of their stomach, and they search for food to fill that emptiness.
The Life of Hunger is a semi-autobiographical novel, where Nothomb shares parts of her childhood. Her father worked as a consulate, so she spent her childhood in Japan, China, USA, Laos, Bangladesh, and Burma. She came from a wealthy family so she never actually experienced the nutritional hunger. But little Amelie was always hungry for something. She felt something important was missing in her life, something that needed to be filled up. Food and water were not enough; Amelie needed cataclysms, catastrophes, and devastations in order to feel alive. The notion of hunger is extended to a desperate compulsion to fill that void.
When you read The Life of Hunger you can almost sense Amelie the anorexic. Her father was bulimic so the girl was exposed to the issues of eating disorder. However, she realized that overabundance with food doesn’t fill that void inside. At 15 years the writer was bored. She felt her life has already passed by. Leaving countries and people behind, Amelie felt a sense of abandonment and loneliness. People, situations, events, nothing seemed to fill her desperate hunger. She was hungry for living and when she couldn’t get it she became hungry for food. She decided to stop eating for good. Her personality started changing. Amelie was no longer a person; beyond continuous hunger what we call soul gradually disappears. The nutritional deprivation becomes a mental one. Amelie recedes and isolates from people in her small world of literature. When she cannot eat food, she eats letters. The girl attempts to find a meaning to life beyond what is happening around her.
The Life of Hunger is philosophical, slightly humorous, and extremely profound. It attempts to decompose hunger into its main components and to show that nutritional hunger is merely a symptom that something is ingeniously wrong. Nutritional hunger signifies the search not for some utopian pleasure but for the simple quest for something to appear, where previously there was nothing. The Life of Hunger is not simply about nutritional anorexia. It is about the anorexia we experience in life when we feel we have been deprived from our driving force. Physicists have attempted to discover this driving force, the one thing that forces people to continue searching, to continue fighting, to continue being. Nothomb finds the answer to this question. Hunger. Hunger determines the battle, hunger leads the battle, and ultimately hunger wins the battle.
In Amelie’s case, hunger helped her write. Every September, Nothomb’s fans are expecting another novel from the brilliant Belgian writer. She writes simply and understandably about life. She doesn’t pretend to be deeply philosophical but she is engaging and entertaining. Her novel The Life of Hunger is for all those people, anorexic, bulimic, or whatever, who have felt a desperate hunger that they couldn’t fill. For all those people that realize that hunger must not be fought but instead used as a driving force towards a better tomorrow. Because how you act today determines how you are going to live tomorrow.
PS: While reading The Life of Hunger I also felt the hunger for excitement, for drama, for cataclysms in my life. The saying “Be careful what you wish for” is absolutely relevant in this case. Minutes after I wrote this post I fell on the street on my chin, I started bleeding like a dead pig on Christmas day, and I had to go to the emergency. I wished for something to happen and well, it did happen. On Friday, 13th.