Friday, May 15, 2009

48. Independent People – Halldor Laxness

History: Published in 1946. The novel (and author) is considered among the main proponents of social realism in Icelandic fiction in the 1930s. It is an indictment of materialism, the cost of the independent spirit to relationships, and capitalism itself. It helped propel Laxness to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1955.
Plot: Set in early 20th century rural Iceland, it chronicles the life of a proud and stubborn freeholder Bjartur who is desperate to remain independent–of the banks, of family, of God–despite desperately harsh conditions and extreme poverty.
Review: Laxness, in Independent People, exalts in the idea of sympathy as one of the only ways that vastly different people -- dreamer and realist, socialist and independent, father and child (alone among the sheep) -- can truly touch each other's lives. He intimates it as a kind of respect when respect cannot otherwise be given, the fruit of grudging tolerance, each noteworthy according to its own nature. Through sympathy -- though never pity -- Laxness mitigates the frustration of the idea of the other: accepting what cannot be changed, and living nonetheless. No less each human life; no less our own.
Opening Line: “In early times, say the Icelandic chronicles, men from the Western Islands came to live in this country, and when they departed, let behind them crosses, bells, and other objects used in the practice of sorcery.”
Closing Line: “Then they went on their way.”
Quotes: "To stand alone, is not that the perfection of life, its aim?"
Rating: Worth reading, but difficult at times.

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