Independent People

( 22 )

Overview

This magnificent novel—which secured for its author the 1955 Nobel Prize in Literature—is at least available to contemporary American readers. Although it is set in the early twentieth century, it recalls both Iceland's medieval epics and such classics as Sigrid Undset's Kristin Lavransdatter. And 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 ...

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Independent People

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Overview

This magnificent novel—which secured for its author the 1955 Nobel Prize in Literature—is at least available to contemporary American readers. Although it is set in the early twentieth century, it recalls both Iceland's medieval epics and such classics as Sigrid Undset's Kristin Lavransdatter. And 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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"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)

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Originally published in 1946 and out of print for decades, this book by the Nobel Prize-winning Icelandic author is a huge, skaldic treat filled with satire, humor, pathos, cold weather and sheep. Gudbjartur Jonsson becomes Bjartur of Summerhouses when, after 18 years of service to the Bailiff of Myri, he is able to buy his own croft. Summerhouses is probably haunted and is certainly unprepossessing, but Bjartur is a stubborn, leathery old (whatever his age) coot, and he soon has his new bride and few head of sheep installed in a sod house. When his wife dies cold and alone giving birth to the daughter of the Bailiff's son, Bjartur takes the child on almost as another test of his independence. Bjartur survives another wife, three sons that lived and several dead ones, all with his "armour of scepticism," which "endowed him with greater moral fortitude than that possessed by the other men." Through hard times (in the guises of worms and a cow that threaten his precious sheep), Bjartur maintains his ferocious and self-destructive independence, one aimed not so much at bettering his condition as being able to tell his former employer where to get off. Laxness is merciless with the hypocrisy of the upper classes, as exemplified by the Bailiff's poetess wife, who applauds the simple life of poor country people, or the Bailiff's son, whose social-welfare schemes help him but undermine the crofters. Laxness is not easy on Bjartur, who is bloody-minded in the extreme, but he is tender enough to compose a poem to his exiled adoptive daughter, and bold enough to engrave a simple marker in honor of the misunderstood ghoul who has haunted his farm and family. He's a figure that Snorri Sturluson would have recognized. (Jan.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679767923
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/28/1997
  • Series: Vintage International Series
  • Pages: 512
  • Sales rank: 147,102
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet 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.
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Introduction

Independent People is a pointedly timeless tale. It reminds us that life on an Icelandic croft had scarcely altered over a millenium; the seasons shifted, but the overall pattern of want and hardship and stoicism endured. Midway through the novel, however, off at an unimaginable distance, something called the Great War erupts. Normally, there would be nothing noteworthy in this (on the Continent, people were forever "hacking one another to pieces like suet in a trough"), but this time the conflict lifts to unprecedented heights the prices for Icelandic mutton and wool. Even the poorest of farmers begin dreaming of an emancipation from their tight, tethered poverty.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 22 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(9)

4 Star

(8)

3 Star

(2)

2 Star

(1)

1 Star

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 22 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2003

    Worth a Nobel Prize in Literature

    This book was almost in 'real time' as far as Icelandic epics go. As a real lover of Laxness, this book was well worth every moment spent under the sheets, amidst a cold winter chill. Read it and travel there (or vise versa.)

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 12, 2012

    Good story with an unusual setting

    Good story with an unusual setting. Some elements appear disjointed and leave you wanting additional explanation.

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  • Posted September 26, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Great read

    read it over summer vacation, very enjoyable

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 18, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    A different read from a differnt location.

    I read this on a recent trip to Iceland. Halldor Laxness is an Icelandic writer who uses the Icelandic people and geography to write about human nature. This book paints a picture of Bjartur who struggles alone and strives to be totally independent of others... it is a sad but from my perspective a true commentary of so many people who choose to be alone and try to be self reliant to an extreme. It gives an excellent image of the hardships that people face in that geographic setting at the beginning of the 20th Century.

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  • Posted June 29, 2009

    Prescient storytelling?

    I found this book while looking for stories about Iceland before I travel there. I am glad to have read it and found this epic tale of Bjatur ironic, funny, frustrating but never boring. Mr Laxness has written a story set in the early 20th century, that as far as I can tell, is nearly a commentary on our present world political, social, and economical situation. Will humans ever learn from the past? Great reading, though the writing style was sometimes a little heavy for my taste, I still recommend it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 18, 2001

    Icelandic Stone

    The main character, Bjartur, is much like the country--weathered and untamed. He fights and endures hardships that steels his heart and builds fortitude to endure. A hint of steely humanism slips out through the years toward his daughter. The book can be tedious at times, but worth reading. Laxness focus on Bjartur's character allowed detailing of the Icelandic culture and the sparce living based on the long-time struggles between the classes.

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