Friday, 6 January 2012

Independent People

I read this book whilst I was in Iceland the first time and wrote the review shortly afterwards. I thought I'd include it here as I visited Laxness' house on this trip and it made quite an impression on me. I'll write about the house later.

By Halldor Laxness

Laxness is Iceland's Dickens or Tolstoy. This is a wonderful saga-like tale set in Iceland at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Bjartur is a sheep farmer trying to make it as an independent man. Life throws everything possible at him, including demons and his stubborn pride, but he almost makes it. By the end of the story he has lost the little he had and is back to working for others for a living. Reading this story in the year or so after the Icelandic financial crisis I wondered how many Icelanders had actually read this most well-known novel from their most well-known writer. Surely if they had the crisis would have been averted as it seemed to have been caused by the same mistakes that caused the crisis for those trying to be independent in Iceland over 100 years ago.

Laxness is so convincing with his descriptions and setting of the scene that I frequently looked up from this book only to be surprised that I wasn't actually in the middle of nowhere on an Icelandic farm. Bjartur is such a convincing character that I wanted to strangle him at times (metaphorically speaking of course) for his stubborness. But at the same time I could understand his reasoning and his reluctance to give even an inch of his hard fought for independence away.

When Bjartur meets with other male characters the long conversations that ensue veer from poetry, sheep and politics to their ideas of what is happening in Great War that is engulfing the rest of Europe and how wonderful this war is for them. Suddenly everyone wants to buy their sheep and prices have soared. They wish for the war to never end. These conversations give wonderful insights into the lives of people at this time, the things that were important to them and their interpretations of the world around them.

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