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Independent People (Panther) [Paperback]

Halldor Laxness , J.A. Thompson
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)

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Book Description

28 Sep 2001 Panther
Set in Iceland, this story is imbued with the lyrical force of medieval ballads and Nordic myth.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: The Harvill Press; New edition edition (28 Sep 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1860467768
  • ISBN-13: 978-1860467769
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.4 x 3.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 900,028 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"I love this book. It is an unfolding wonder of artistic vision and skill - one of the best books of the 20th century. I can't imagine any greater delight than coming to Independent People for the first time" (Jane Smiley)

"Laxness is a poet who writes to the edge of the pages, a visionary who allows a plot: he takes a Tolstoyan overview, he weaves in an Evelyn Waugh-like humour: It is not possible to be unimpressed" (Fay Weldon on her 'Book of the Century' Daily Telegraph)

"Marvellously fluent and unaffected... one of the most original and skilfully written novels of the 20th century" (Times Literary Supplement)

"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" (New York Review of Books)

"Do yourself a favour and read Independent People. Opening this book is like opening a chest of treasures. Reading this book is like taking the treasures out and appreciating them, savouring them, one by one, sentence by sentence. This is the kind of novel that reminds you how glad you are that you learned to read in the first place" (Chicago Tribune) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Book Description

An engrossing and humane modern classic, imbued with the lyrical force of medieval ballads and Nordic myth. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tale of life with sheep 1 Dec 2002
By Farfalla VINE VOICE
This is probably my favorite book of all time, even though I have only managed to read it once. I was assigned to read this book for an Icelandic literature course when I was living in Reykjavik for the year. Every time I went to read it, I had to brace myself to withstand the onslaught, but when you are reading it, time passes quickly, and you can lose yourself in the words. It is only when you put the book down and have to think about what you have just read that the full scope of Bjartur of Summerhouses' life hits you. The detail that is contained in these pages makes for a depressing catalogue of deprivation.
The story contained here revolves around sheep, and the determination of Bjartur to accept no help, aid or loan. Bjartur manages to raise the money necessary to buy a piece of land and a flock of sheep. No-one has wanted this land, because it once belonged to a witch, and she still curses the land. (This may be difficult for the average person to accept who has not been in Iceland, but a more desolate and wind-scoured landlacape does not exist. When you are there, you can easily accept trolls, elf-mounds and witches.) Bjartur buys his land and marries a girl who has worked at the nearby prosperous farm, where he worked as well. She is already pregnant with the son of that family's child, and this starts the long and depressing marriage of Bjartur.
As the book continues, you can feel the great difference in their lives that a single cow makes, the prosperity that comes with world war one, and the return of poverty after the war. The rest of the world seems to move on, without touching the cold interior of Iceland.
I love this book, but warn anyone who goes to pick it up, that this book demands involvement, and it is NOT a piece of light reading.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent 8 Jan 2002
By A Customer
Bjartur is an independent man, an Icelandic sheep farmer, broad of chest and strong in mind. Above all else he values his freedom and after years of farm labouring he buys a farm and becomes even more of his own master. It isn't just any farm though, locals believe the place to be horribly cursed. Not Bjartur. Superstition and the religion are for the unfree. This is how the book begins and to say more might spoil your read. I add only that Laxness' writing is like poetry with muddy boots on. And how he is able to inhabit the world's of his book; the sheep dog, the old woman, the boy child, the lover, the father, the fells. Passages of this book stay with me and I defy readers not to be impacted in way a similar elemental way.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Icelandic epic 1 Nov 1998
By A Customer
Every year, I try to read at least one classic work of fiction, whether I need to or not. So far in 1998, my choice has been Halldor Laxness' 1946 Nobel Prize winning novel Independent People. This is a book which I had never heard of until it was re-issued in English (the original is in Icelandic) in 1997. Laxness, who subtitles his work "An Epic," tells the tale of sheep-farmer Bjartur of Summerhouses, and his life-long, monomaniacal struggle for financial independence. In the process, he loses two wives, a son leaves him, and his dearest child -- Asta Sollilja ("Beloved Sun-Lily") -- is disowned. Only by losing all of his wealth does he find what he truly values. While styled "an epic," this is also a whimsical and lyrical work. Bjatur, in addition to farming, is a bit of a poet, and the most remarkable extended scene is Bjatur's desperate struggle with bitter cold in the wilderness while trying to find a strayed sheep. In the middle of the night, to keep his senses and way, he returns to his muse:
'Seldom had he recited so much poetry in any one night; he had recited all his father's poetry, all the ballads he could remember, all his own palindromes backwards and forwards in forty-eight different ways, whole processions of dirty poems, one hymn he learned from his mother, and all the lampoons that had been known in the Fourthing from time immemorial about baliffs, merchants, and sheriffs.'
Ultimately, the poetry keeps him alive as he finally crawls his way on all fours to safety. I found myself reading this book in short doses so that I could savor the language, and so it would not end too soon.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My all time favorite 7 May 2003
I was never that fond of Laxness before I read Independent People, I had read a couple of his books when I was younger but I see now that I wasn't mature enough to grasp the brilliance of Laxness' writing. This book is probably the most memorable book I've ever read, and now I've re-read the books I had already read and found that Laxness fully deserved the Nobel prize he got in 1955.
This book is a definite must read for everyone.
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
This novel acquaints the reader with the harshness of life in Icelandic farming communities, that persisted until quite recently. Much of the tragedy of the story is clear. Bjartur's stubborness and obsessive self-sufficiency cause terrible damage to his family and all who come in contact with him. But it becomes apparent that such qualities aid survival in the harsh conditions, for when he finally takes a more generous attitude, it leads to his downfall.
It is less obvious to the non-Icelander that this is actually a tragic comedy. Icelanders like black jokes. It incorporates a deeply satirical commentary on Icelandic history and social condition, and Icelandic speakers tell me that it is full of Icelandic "in-jokes". So perhaps we should compare this to Flann O'Brien's "The Poor Mouth".
One simple example of the difficulties we foreigners have. We might consider Bjartur's initial refusal to buy a cow a little miserly; in fact it is shocking. At the time, the Icelandic population obtained about 50% of their meagre calorific intake from dairy products, so he is condemning his family to malnutrition.
Icelanders have also told me that it is linguistically very rich, and Laxness was inclined to make up his own words and constructions, making it a tough read even for the locals.
Though it is unfashionable to say so, I find the translation rather annoying; the translator is attempting to give the reader a hint of the writer's style, but for me it comes out as a parody of Thomas Hardy. Magnusson's translations of Laxness's other books are less obtrusive.
To obtain full value from this extraordinary work, I would suggest that the reader invest the effort to read two other books first. One is Laxness's "The Fish Can Sing".
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books I've read in a long time
One of the best books I've read in a long time. Beautifully written with depth and a real understanding of humanity.
Published 1 hour ago by Ella Percival
4.0 out of 5 stars The life of an icelandic peasant
Follows the bleak life of a crofter through boom and bust as he struggles to maintain his independence sheep farming in a small corner of an Icelandic valley. Read more
Published 20 days ago by J. S. P. Spender
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 24 days ago by Mr. Michael Richard Harris
4.0 out of 5 stars no wonder he got Nobel Prize
I always buy local authors when I travel. SO I asked in a bookshop in Iceland what to buy. I am ashamed to say that I never heard of this Nobel Prize winning author! Read more
Published 3 months ago by Lucie Novak
5.0 out of 5 stars ' "It is freedom that we are all after. ..He who keeps his sheep alive...
Utterly compelling work, set in the bleak Icelandic farming world of 1900-20.
Bjartur has just acquired his own piece of land after 18 years in thrall to the local bailiff. Read more
Published 3 months ago by sally tarbox
5.0 out of 5 stars Icelandic peoples
Ordered this in an attempt to find out the history of the Icelandic people following a trip to their country. Laxness won a Nobel prize for literature. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Newscot
5.0 out of 5 stars Could not put it down
A really great family saga. I have been to Iceland and visited the Norwegian Museum of Country life in Lillehammer so I have seen what it was like to live in a hut with a turf roof... Read more
Published 7 months ago by B00Tee
5.0 out of 5 stars Almost impossible to read, then impossible to forget.
I had to struggle to keep picking up this book up to about the halfway mark. It's utterly, unrelentingly miserable. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Josh
5.0 out of 5 stars A real feel-good novel
Sometimes all you need to boost your mood is several hundred pages of death, starvation, chauvinistic belligerence, more death, animal cruelty, poverty, narrow-mindedness, death,... Read more
Published 9 months ago by RonanF
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant -and challenging
I bought the e book edition in Iceland, which is of course the best place to savour this atmospheric book but sadly my enjoyment was impaired by the extremely poor quality of the... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Margot Male
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