Independent People
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Independent People

4.19 of 5 stars 4.19  ·  rating details  ·  3,511 ratings  ·  552 reviews
First published in 1946, this humane epic novel is set in rural Iceland in the early twentieth century. Bjartus is a sheep farmer determined to eke a living from a blighted patch of land. Nothing, not merciless weather, nor his family will come between him and his goal of financial independence. Only Asta Solillja, the child he brings up as his daughter, can pierce his stu...more
Kindle Edition, 565 pages
Published (first published 1934)
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Feb 15, 2008 Abigail rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who loves literature
"How much can one sacrifice for the sake of one's pride? Everything, of course - if one is proud enough." - Halldór Laxness, The Atom Station, 1948

No less than the best book I have read so far in my life.
Independent People (original title: Sjálfstætt Fólk) is the tragedy of a man who is proud enough to sacrifice everything. It tells the story of Bjartur of Summerhouses, his family (especially his daughter, Ásta Sóllilja) and the 'world war' they wage against the harsh Icelandic landscape in whi...more
Nov 16, 2013 Brian rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Brian by: Jonathan

Everything that one has ever created achieves reality. And soon the day dawns when one finds oneself at the mercy of the reality one has created.

There is a subtle beauty in this text - an expansive desolation that plays as canvas to Laxness' protagonist Bjartur of Summerhouses creation of an independent life. Told in the early years of the 20th century on the hard-scrabble tundra of rural Iceland, the narrative follows the course of this stubborn Bjartur and his quixotic life-long quest for comp...more
When you say the word 'culture', watch out. The traps within the simple word are many, a loving gaze on the self and a objectifying fascination with the other, idealization and discrimination two shafts of light within the same grimy crystal. Nothing conveys this truth so well and so thoroughly as literature, as many throughout the centuries bring up their utensil of inkish intent and lay down their views, all for the most part bound within their single subset of country, family, faith. Nothing...more
It took me a little to do this thing with Independent People. 500 pages of itsy bitsy print: it requires a monogamous, long term commitment.’ But’, Brad Leithauser enthuses in the foreword,’ this is the book of my life. I have to reign in the suspicion I am its only ideal reader’. Hey ho, not a bad sell. Still, why? What is the book about?

‘Well, its a book about sheep’ says Leithauser. Well, for heavens sake. 500 pages about sheep, do I have it in me? I’m not Welsh after all, where the men are m...more
Way back when. My wife and went our prominent local bookseller over the holidays in 2003. She asked me if I had read anything by Laxness and I adroitly responded, "who?" She bought something else and the following day I jogged down to the public library. My face burning with shame I checked this out and returned home. I read such over two days. Jonsson the sheep farmer is everyman and he's screwed. Modernity arrives along with a nascent globalization. Never razor sharp, the farmer does possess a...more
What does it mean being independent? Stop for a moment and think: do you consider yourself an independent person? I've never asked myself this question seriously before reading this novel, although I've always tried to preserve my freedom by sticking to a few personal guidelines: I avoid becoming a working slave; I can't keep my mouth shut when I observe injustice or stupidity; I can't keep my head down to gain favors; I can't stand being tied to a person just out of politeness.

In my view, being...more
K.D. Absolutely
Apr 29, 2014 K.D. Absolutely rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.D. by: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2008-2012)
Shelves: 1001-core, iceland, nobel
My 109th book read this year and just the 6th time that I gave a 5-star rating.

This book truly deserves this. It feels like the Les Miserables of Iceland but the sights, smell and sound here is not the France in 19th century but the moors, the sheep, the snow of Iceland during the turn of the 20th century. Halldor Laxness (1902-1998) received the 1955 Nobel Prize for Literature and the only Icelandic author who has won this prestigious price.

The story revolves around a man called Bjartur of Sum...more
Written as a pair with Pericles

Reading Smiley on the back cover of this book:

‘I can’t imagine any greater delight than coming to Independent People for the first time’ Really? I mean, REALLY????? Better than sex? Chocolate icecream??? What sort of life has Smiley lived that makes her say that. I couldn’t help thinking of this exchange on the comments of my Harry Potter review:

Brook: "I hav read every single book 14 times and i read an average of 200 books per year and have never read a better w...more
This story of a man determined to be an independent smallholder raising sheep in the years before the first world war is a great book, for the right reader. As a book it has two principal obstacles to being universally enjoyed. Firstly sheep are among the most important characters and much like their human dependants, their hardy virtues are easier to admire than love. Secondly it is full of misery, worse yet, misery that is handled with irony and detachment. The simplest way of describing Indep...more
Feb 07, 2008 Candice rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: lovers of icelandic history; those who like detailed writing
Shelves: fiction, iceland
Despite the reviews below, this book is not about sheep.

Independent People is about the complex intersection of pride and poverty. It is the story of the fiercely strong and intelligent everyman who has little to show for their successes yet holds their successes with high esteem. It is also about how one's endless struggle to be self-sufficient can make one bitter, senseless, hypocritical and cold.

This book is not about sheep at all. Main character Bjartur is preoccupied with sheep because bei...more
Emily randomly picked up this book for me in Powells a few years ago, and, after seeing it on our shelf, Brian selected it for book club. I don't know if I ever would have bumped into it on my own, which makes me understand Brad Leithauser's comment in the introduction that discovering "Independent People" makes you feel supremely lucky. What are the odds of stumbling upon an almost 500-page, densely woven, Icelandic novel from the 1940s, and further, what are the odds that it would be so incred...more
Eu teria de ler este livro, nem que fosse apenas pelo título, Gente Independente...
Há anos que "vivia" na minha estante, esperando, quem sabe, o momento certo.
Porque se existe um momento ideal para conhecermos e amarmos pessoas, acredito que também existe esse momento para os livros. Se nos cruzarmos com eles no tempo errado, corremos o risco de não os desfrutarmos em toda a sua plenitude.

Foi uma leitura maravilhosa e que me encheu a alma. Cada palavra encadeada em belas e melódicas frases que m...more
If you thought "The Idiot" by Fyodor Dostoyevsky was maddening long and depressing "Independent People" is a close runner up. It is an incredibly bleak view of rural life in Iceland concerned with the struggle of poor Icelandic farmers in the early 20th century, only freed from debt bondage in the last generation, and surviving on isolated crofts in an inhospitable landscape. Written in the 1930's originally in 2 volumes, it condemns materialism, the cost of the self-reliant spirit to relationsh...more
Sheep saga
The power of Laxness's writing allows the reader to become truly immersed in the smells, sights and sounds of the world he has created and, for me at least, the smells seemed to predominate, the smell of damp wool especially. An amazing feat.
Throughout its long history, Iceland has known periods of horrible poverty. At times, the fault was in some massive volcanic eruption. It didn't help that, for hundreds of years, the country was under the control of Denmark, that most louche of all colonial powers. Halldór Laxness, the country's only winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, has in Independent People described a large swath of Iceland's history from the late 19th century to 1917 -- all from the point of view of a farmer named Gu...more
bill greene
sort of a twentieth century Icelandic saga. so far so good although i put it down in the middle over a month ago. i will finish it however.

UPDATE: this book was amazing, one of those books that creates a whole world you live in for the time you're reading it. one of those books where, as a friend of mine says, you get sad at the end because your friends are going away now.

not that the characters are necessarily likable. one of the novel's great achievements is creating a central character (Bjart...more
Dhanaraj Rajan

I do not want to be very lengthy about this review. Let me try to present my view with an imagery.

If we can consider H. Laxness as a drawing artist, then this book can be considered as his ambitious project. For the canvas is very expansive and in it he wants to present everything to its last detail - the history of Iceland, the changing landscapes, the interesting culture with its various expressions, the traditional art forms and beliefs, and above all the ever int...more
Independent People is a story about Iceland and the limits of self-assertion. Laxness’ protagonist, Bjartur, is a hard-headed, insolent fellow, hell-bent on living life his own way. With the aim of raising a large sheep herd, he purchases a secluded tract of moorland. The land is haunted by the ghost of an old witch (Kolumkilli) whose fabled machinations symbolize the vicissitudes endemic to the island’s history. Breaking free of the subservient culture of village-life, Bjartur sets out to conqu...more
a saga of rural/farming iceland. quite, tedious, grounded in the knowing that these things run in circles, and from a farmers point of view, endless circles (they hope)(see this polish farming saga . because really, what does a farmer want? to get rich quick and leave? mo. to educate all their family so they leave? no. they want it to go on and on and on, time out of mind. so i think laxness tries to give us this feeling, but also the reality that modern world is always encroaching (even if in i...more
When I started reading this one I thought I was in for an ordeal. It starts slowly and I struggled somewhat with the Icelandic names, but once the pages started to be numbered in the three digits I found that I was held in thrall by the main character, Bjartur. I honestly detested the man and the ruinous effect his obstinacy had on the lives of the creatures that depended on him. Bjartur is by turns churlish and heroic, profane and poetic, but unfailingly fatalistic in his philosophy and tough t...more
Hardship and frontier sagas have their own man vs. nature fan club, whose meetings I rarely attend. When you overlay the whole elemental drama with an exposition of the honest, working man’s helplessness in the face of the manipulative rich people who advance capitalism and modernity, a grim sub-genre emerges. It was done perfectly with “The Grapes of Wrath” and a guild of other page-fillers have knocked out an unnecessary pile of novels that tell similar tales ad nauseum.

Certainly, Laxness’ cr...more
Lucie Novak
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!
This book, about Iceland in the first half of twentieth century was just about the most exotic book I ever read. The life of the main character, a stubborn, brave, tenacious and rather stupid ( according to author himself) Bjartur of Summerhouses, an alien creature in alien surroundings, no roads, no civilisation ,just hard work. I l...more
Chris Young
One of the very best books I have ever read. I came into it expecting a certain amount of social realism, and perhaps some small transportation to the bleak moors of Iceland. I got more than I bargained for. This novel is nourishing in every sense — full of poetry, humour and tragedy. One can't help but becoem entangled with the fortunes of Bjartur the shepherd and his family, as he struggles for independence from both global economics systems and the legends that haunt his land. A novel I will...more
Lindu Pindu
— 3.5 stars —

Finally. Over. I can now say I was swept with regret when I finished reading this wrist-twisting novel (it’s over 500 pages).

I am well familiar with stories about peasants in search of their independence, interlaced with love and politics — I wonder if most of the Romanian literature forced on me in school was about much else. So after reading the prologue my first thought was, not again. This book however, has a certain quirkiness about it, and takes the story much further, ties...more
I read this book during a vacation in Iceland, which is where my grandmother was born. The bleak landscape we drove through helped bring the book to life, and the book made me feel I had a better understanding of both my grandmother and the people we ran into along the way in Iceland. I found the book hard to get through - its main character is such a dour, unpleasant person, and there is so little relief of anything good happening to anyone. Bleak is the word. On one stretch of road that went h...more
Aug 09, 2007 Bobby rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: serious readers
Shelves: fiction
To properly appreciate and read this book, on must hunker down on the cold heath, be it your home or abroad, ignore the heat or embrace the cold, and read each line as if it was the first.

Some books can be consumed whole, reading sentences, paragraphs, pages, all at once, your consciousness able to swallow great chunks and extract nutrition. But Laxness' book is not of this nature, it is the opposite - the larger chunks you swallow, the slower you must read, because on a fast reading you have to...more
This book is about sheep. And being cold. If you think about sheep, the reality of them, they're kinda dirty, kinda creepy, look a little like weird demon creatures. Same goes for a lot of things in this book. There ARE weird demon creatures and creepy men/women/children; some die spitting blood into the snow while some survive reindeer rides through ice-cold rivers in the middle of a night where time seems to have stopped; people dream long or briefly and inevitably lose their dreams; gnarled o...more
I don't want to review this book. It's a lovely work that captures a people, a nation, a way of life, and a philosophy of living. Bjartur to the grave!
Al Bità
This is a book for people who love reading. Not necessarily easy to 'get into' for some modern tastes (the book was first published in 1934-5, thus covering the historical period leading to World War I and the Great Depression) but it is worth persisting with it and allowing it to 'work' on you. Other reviews provide basic details regarding the plot and people in the novel, so I won't repeat them. What is wonderful about the book is that it is ultimately intensely human.

Special considerations: b...more
This is an amazing book. It captures the essence of the rugged moorland icelandic shepherds life with brutal realism, ironic hilarity, poetical whimsy, and biting political commentary. This book really has it all, captures life in all its comic tragedy while giving a window into a world where sheep diarrhea is a primary topic of conversation. This is truly a book like no other. I spent the first 20 pages trying to decide if the author had his tongue in his cheek or had the earnestness of a missi...more
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Born Halldór Guðjónsson, he adopted the surname Laxness in honour of Laxnes in Mosfellssveit where he grew up, his family having moved from Reyjavík in 1905. He published his first novel at the age of 17, the beginning of a long literary career of over 60 books, including novels, short stories, poetry, and plays. Confirmed a Catholic in 1923, he later moved away from religion and for a long time w...more
More about Halldór Laxness...
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“Shortly afterwards it started raining, very innocently at first, but the sky was packed tight with cloud and gradually the drops grew bigger and heavier, until it was autumn’s dismal rain that was falling—rain that seemed to fill the entire world with its leaden beat, rain suggestive in its dreariness of everlasting waterfalls between the planets, rain that thatched the heavens with drabness and brooded oppressively over the whole countryside, like a disease, strong in the power of its flat, unvarying monotony, its smothering heaviness, its cold, unrelenting cruelty. Smoothly, smoothly it fell, over the whole shire, over the fallen marsh grass, over the troubled lake, the iron-grey gravel flats, the sombre mountain above the croft, smudging out every prospect. And the heavy, hopeless, interminable beat wormed its way into every crevice in the house, lay like a pad of cotton wool over the ears, and embraced everything, both near and far, in its compass, like an unromantic story from life itself that has no rhythm and no crescendo, no climax, but which is nevertheless overwhelming in its scope, terrifying in its significance. And at the bottom of this unfathomed ocean of teeming rain sat the little house and its one neurotic woman.” 17 likes
“This was the first time that he has ever looked into the labyrinth of the human soul. He was very far from understanding what he saw. But what was of more value, he felt and suffered with her. In years that were yet to come, he relived this memory in song, in the most beautiful song this world has known. For the understanding of the soul's defencelessness, of the conflict between the two poles, is not the source of the greatest song. The source of the greatest song is sympathy.” 10 likes
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