Other books byHalldor Laxness
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.
The Fish Can Sing
The Fish Can Sing is one of Nobel Prize winner Halldór Laxness’s most beloved novels, a poignant coming-of-age tale marked with his peculiar blend of light irony and dark humor. The orphan Alfgrimur has spent an idyllic childhood sheltered in the simple turf cottage of a generous and eccentric elderly couple. Alfgrimur dreams only of becoming a fisherman like his adoptive grandfather, until he meets Iceland's biggest celebrity. The opera singer Gardar Holm’s international fame is a source of tremendous pride to tiny, insecure Iceland, though no one there has ever heard him sing. A mysterious man who mostly avoids his homeland and repeatedly fails to perform for his adoring countrymen, Gardar takes a particular interest in Alfgrimur’s budding musical talent and urges him to seek out the world beyond the one he knows and loves. But as Alfgrimur discovers that Gardar is not what he seems, he begins to confront the challenge of finding his own path without turning his back on where he came from.
Sometimes grim, sometimes uproarious, and always captivating, Iceland’s Bell by Nobel Laureate Halldór Laxness is at once an updating of the traditional Icelandic saga and a caustic social satire. At the close of the 17th century, Iceland is an oppressed Danish colony, suffering under extreme poverty, famine, and plague. A farmer and accused cord-thief named Jon Hreggvidsson makes a bawdy joke about the Danish king and soon after finds himself a fugitive charged with the murder of the king’s hangman. In the years that follow, the hapless but resilient rogue Hreggvidsson becomes a pawn entangled in political and personal conflicts playing out on a far grander scale. Chief among these is the star-crossed love affair between Snaefridur, known as “Iceland’s Sun,” a beautiful, headstrong young noblewoman, and Arnas Arnaeus, the king’s antiquarian, an aristocrat whose worldly manner conceals a fierce devotion to his downtrodden countrymen. As their personal struggle plays itself out on an international stage, Iceland’s Bell creates a Dickensian canvas of heroism and venality, violence and tragedy, charged with narrative enchantment on every page.
Under the Glacier
Nobel laureate Halldór Laxness’s Under the Glacier is a one-of-a-kind masterpiece, a wryly provocative novel at once earthy and otherworldly. At its outset, the Bishop of Iceland dispatches a young emissary to investigate certain charges against the pastor at Sn?fells Glacier, who, among other things, appears to have given up burying the dead. But once he arrives, the emissary finds that this dereliction counts only as a mild eccentricity in a community that regards itself as the center of the world and where Creation itself is a work in progress. What is the emissary to make, for example, of the boarded-up church? What about the mysterious building that has sprung up alongside it? Or the fact that Pastor Primus spends most of his time shoeing horses? Or that his wife, Ua (pronounced “ooh-a,” which is what men invariably sputter upon seeing her), is rumored never to have bathed, eaten, or slept? Piling improbability on top of improbability, Under the Glacier overflows with comedy both wild and deadpan as it conjures a phantasmagoria as beguiling as it is profound.