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Independent People Paperback – International Edition, January 14, 1997
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From Publishers 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.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"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)
Top customer reviews
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Both this book and a visit to Iceland are highly recommendable.
"Forenoon, noon, and afternoon are as far off as the countries we hope to see when we grow up; evening as remote and unreal as death..." p.139
"Few things are so inconstant, so unstable, as a loving heart, and yet it is the only place in the world where one can find sympathy." P.147
"...there is much comfort in the thought that time effaces everything, crime and sorrow no less than love." P.226
"...two human beings have such trouble in understanding each other, there is nothing so tragical as two human beings." P.301
"In its own way misery no less than revelry is varied in form and worthy of note wherever there lurks a spark of life in the world," p.303
These are just a few of the gems in this singular tale. Only four stars, because, well, aside from a few shining poetic passages of hopefulness (quickly crushed) the world portrayed here is mind-numbingly (for this reader anyway) bleak. And a reader cannot live on bleakness alone.
Most recent customer reviews
So so book.
Main character cannot see forest for the trees.Read more