Group Read of Independent People by Halldór Laxness

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Group Read of Independent People by Halldór Laxness

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maaliskuu 2, 2014, 7:05 pm

I hope you will join me in reading Independent People by 1955 Nobel Laureate Halldor Laxness!

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 2, 2014, 7:11 pm

For a biography of Halldór Laxness you might try the following:

The Nobel Prize website


Encyclopedia Britannica

Or the biography The Islander by Halldór Gudmundsson, reviewed in the Telegraph.

maaliskuu 2, 2014, 7:15 pm

For reviews of Independent People, you might try:


The New York Times

maaliskuu 3, 2014, 8:09 am

Thanks for setting up this thread, Lisa! I've had my copy of Independent People for about 17 years and cannot fathom why I have waited so long to read it. So far I am really enjoying it.

maaliskuu 4, 2014, 12:39 pm

Lisa/Linda, would you like me to add this thread to the group page? Maybe you should announce it on the message board in case others would like to join you.

maaliskuu 4, 2014, 1:32 pm

Thank you, Rebecca, that would be nice.

maaliskuu 4, 2014, 11:22 pm

Hi Lisa--I knew I read somewhere that there was a group read of Independent People, but when I looked for the thread I couldn't find it at first. I'm glad I located it now, because I'd like to join in. I read it back in the early 80's and know that I loved it. I've been intending to reread it for quite some time now. I kept the first edition volume that I bought years ago, and that is what I'll be rereading from.

maaliskuu 5, 2014, 8:36 am

I would be interested in this, but first I have to decide whether to borrow the German from the library or to buy the English as an e-book.

maaliskuu 5, 2014, 7:33 pm

>7 arubabookwoman: Welcome, Deborah. I'm curious: who translated your edition? I have the Vintage International edition translated by J. A. Thompson.

>8 MarthaJeanne: Hi MarthaJeanne, how lovely that you have options being multilingual! I wonder how the German and English translations would compare.

maaliskuu 5, 2014, 7:42 pm

I finished the first book of Independent People today, and I have to agree with ChocolateMuse who wrote in her review (which I've only skimmed, not wanting spoilers):

The book opens in Bjartur’s perspective – a peasant who has just, after long struggle, bought himself a freeholding, has married a wife and is arriving at his own land as an independent man. He is isolated and dirt-poor – and the most horrible, awful man one could ever not help liking in the history of fiction.

It's true, Bjartur treats his wife (and dog) horribly, but I can't help liking him when he tries to capture the reindeer and ends up fighting the storm as though it were a demon from myth.

There are parts of the book I identify with being of rather independent New England stock. I like the way Laxness includes Icelandic myth and folklore. I just don't know if I like the book!

What are your takes on the book and characters so far?

Please use spoiler tag when needed! Open bracket, the word spoiler, close bracket, then at the end of the passage Open bracket, backslash, spoiler, close bracket. Thanks!

maaliskuu 7, 2014, 5:47 pm

I have read Independent People twice, maybe three times, and it is a favorite. I don't know that I'll be reading it again now, but if there is discussion I will be paying attention to it.


Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 26, 2014, 9:46 am

Edited to remove spoiler tags

Independent People by Halldór Laxness

Although firmly rooted in early 20th century rural Iceland, Independent People has a timelessness about it, interweaving medieval myths with the ideals of a democratic republic. The culture and extreme poverty of peasant life traces back seemingly unchanged through many generations, before World War I suddenly brings prosperity to sheep farmers. Business cooperatives are formed and a housing boom brings a very contemporary feeling. Then, just as suddenly, a post-war collapse is driven by decline in the demand for sheep, bank failures and the crushing debt of heavily financed homes.

Bjartur of Summerhouses is a thirtieth generation, Icelandic peasant whose world revolves around his sheep and a fierce belief in the importance of personal and financial independence. The sheep farm that Bjartur buys after 18 years of struggle is a harsh yet beautiful natural setting, suited to the needs of sheep, but providing little in terms of human sustenance. His croft is barely sufficient as shelter, his clothing tattered, and food supplies scarce. Infuriating in his stubbornness and harsh conduct toward his wives and children, Bjartur is nonetheless a complex character. He rejects the commonly accepted myth that his land is haunted by Kolumkilli the Irish and his blood-drinking worshiper, Gunnvor. His hard exterior contrasts with the poetry that he composes and recites, underscoring an Icelandic oral tradition that divulges his inner life. Bjartur’s wives seem sacrificed to the role of child-bearing, their compromised physical health forcing them to extended bed rest and their emotional well-being lost in their husband’s single-minded focus on his sheep. Their children are much more vibrant characters, toiling from dawn to dusk on the farm, accepting of their poverty and the authority of nature, yet still thirsting for knowledge and curious about the outside world.

The sheer force of Bjartur’s ideals and pride of independence enable him to endure the loss of his wives, children, farm, and ultimately his hard-won economic prosperity. Unnaturally stoic in his reaction to the loss of his three sons, he nonetheless holds an enduring affection for his first wife’s daughter, Asta Sollilja, who was conceived through an illegitimate relationship, yet raised as his own. There is a hint of hidden sexual tension to this father-daughter relationship and an interdependence that binds them even as they separate and rejoin, returning almost gratefully to a physically impoverished life scratched from the countryside, but together.

I loved this novel and did not want it to end. Laxness writes with equal beauty of mundane concerns of coffee and sheep, and lofty matters of nature and poetry.
The ewes loitered among the hollows and the gullies, cropping at whatever they could find above the snow. But when least expected they would take to their heels and, rushing to the top of the gully or the hollow, would race off into the wind at full speed, into unlimited space, into eternity; for sheep also love eternity and have faith in it. (347)

There are lessons to be learned here of what is most important and enduring in life.

huhtikuu 2, 2014, 9:09 am

Ironic that I just saw this post in Club Read about a group read of Independent People. I'm doing my own little Scandinavian lit thing for 2014, and I finished Independent People maybe a month ago. I'm about to start Iceland's Bell.

huhtikuu 2, 2014, 8:19 pm

>13 twogerbils: If you write reviews, please feel free to add yours here, or just make some comments on it. I STILL haven't finished it, but it would be nice if those who have had someone with whom to discuss it! Also, have you read any other books by Laxness? What did you think/how did they compare?

huhtikuu 2, 2014, 8:44 pm

So many people love this book, and I do not. I have not finished reading it, and wonder now if I will. I feel terribly illiterate or nonliterary that I am unable to appreciate a book that is so admired by people whose tastes are usually in line with my own and whose opinions I value. What am I missing? Is it that I am unable to like a book whose main character I find vile? Well, I think Crime and Punishment brilliant, and Raskolnikov is no peach. Is it that I am too sensitive to Bjartur's mistreatment of his daughter and how he leaves her to wallow in guilt and shame while he remains seemingly unaffected (except perhaps wanting more)? Perhaps. Although Laxness writes beautifully, and I like how he incorporates mythology into his novel, I feel as though he is trying to get us to like and admire Bjartur despite his flaws, and that is something I cannot do. I would love to know how other readers feel about it, especially those who love the book. I want to understand what I am missing.

huhtikuu 3, 2014, 6:49 am

Lisa, how far are you in the book? Laxness only gradually and quietly reveals the depth of Bjartur's feelings for his daughter, which cause him to betray his core belief in personal, financial independence. He is a tough character to like, but you can see his humanity in the end.

huhtikuu 3, 2014, 5:39 pm

Ah, maybe I need to keep going then. I'm only about half way through, but wasn't sure how much more of the same I wanted to read.