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.