The story centers on Bjartur, his dog and his sheep. Like many, Bjartur, toils in poverty yearning for financial independence while eating marsh grass in the lean times to stay alive. After years of hard labor, as the book opens, he has finally succeeded in obtaining a meagre home of his own, sheep on the main floor, humans above. Staying true to his quest, Bjartur battles epic storms, fails to understand his wives, and works toward security while perhaps failing to grasp those things that are more important in life. The one person to break through his emotional barriers in a meaningful way is his daughter, who really isn’t his daughter, Asta. Inevitably father and child will have the same stubborn, independent spirit leading to battles, estrangements, and the beating heart of the novel. Laxness suffuses the story with touching, wry, amusing moments such as Bjartur’s young son sneaking out into the night talking to rocks so the elves will hear.— Deon Stonehouse
From the Nobel Prize-winning Icelandic author, a magnificent, epic novel—"funny, clever, sardonic and brilliant" (Annie Proulx)—at last available to contemporary American readers.
Set in the early twentieth century, Independent People recalls both Iceland's medieval epics and such classics as Sigrid Undset's Kristin Lavransdatter. If Bjartur of Summerhouses, the book's protagonist, is an ordinary sheep farmer, his flinty determination to achieve independence is genuinely heroic and, at the same time, terrifying and bleakly comic.
Having spent eighteen years in humiliating servitude, Bjartur wants nothing more than to raise his flocks unbeholden to any man. But Bjartur's spirited daughter wants to live unbeholden to him. What ensues is a battle of wills that is by turns harsh and touching, elemental in its emotional intensity and intimate in its homely detail. Vast in scope and deeply rewarding, Independent People is a masterpiece.
About the Author
Halldór Laxness was born near Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1902. His first novel was published when he was seventeen. The undisputed master of contemporary Icelandic fiction and one of the outstanding novelists of the century, he has written more than sixty books, including novels short stories, essays, poems, plays and memoirs. In 1955 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He died in 1998.
"Reader rejoice! At last this funny, clever, sardonic and brilliant book is back in print. Independent People is one of my Top Ten Favourite Books of All Time." —Annie Proulx
"There are good books and there are great books and there may be a book that is something still more: it is the book of your life. . . . My favorite book by a living novelist is Independent People." —Brad Leithauser
"This beautiful and heartbreaking novel has haunted me ever since I was lent a rare copy years ago, and I am delighted that what is clearly a masterpiece by a relatively uncelebrated genius will now be available to a wide audience of book lovers. If there is any justice in the world, the name Laxness will soon become a household word, at least in those households where timeless works of the imagination are cherished." —Joel Conarroe
"Laxness has a poet's imagination and a poet's gift for phrase and symbol. . . . Bjartur is a magnificent and complex symbol of peasant independence." —The New York Times Book Review
"A strange story, vibrant and alive. . . . There is a rare beauty in its telling, a beauty as surprising as the authentic strain of poetry that lies in the shoving, battering Icelander." —Atlantic Monthly
"A saga that somehow contrives to recapture the broad, clear air of older Icelandic tales." —The Observer (London)
"[Laxness] gives a large picture of life under primitive conditions, [he] writes vividly, using irony with vigorous effect; amid the brutality and squalor there are rich moments of humor and poetry." —The Spectator (London)