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World Light

(Heimsljós #1)

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  661 ratings  ·  58 reviews
As an unloved foster child on a farm in rural Iceland, Olaf Karason has only one consolation: the belief that one day he will be a great poet. The indifference and contempt of most of the people around him only reinforces his sense of destiny, for in Iceland poets are as likely to be scorned as they are to be revered. Over the ensuing years, Olaf comes to lead the ...more
Paperback, 624 pages
Published October 8th 2002 by Vintage (first published 1937)
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Average rating 4.14  · 
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 ·  661 ratings  ·  58 reviews

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Steven Godin
With the mountains on one side
and rolling hills on the other,
lies a boy, in a bed
without a real mother.

While the waves lap the shore
with an icy wind blowing,
he looks to the light
as his mind starts growing.

With pen and paper in hand
he dreams of being a poet,
as the years pass on by
well, wouldn't you just know it!

No rags to riches tale here
only harshness and poverty,
for the poor old folk of Iceland
he would cause much controversy...

The boy in question is one Olafur Karason, an unloved child, placed
Eric Hinkle
Oct 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: humans
Shelves: favorites
This is the 2nd-best book I've read this year. The first was Independent People, by the same author, which is easily one of the 5 or 10 best books I've ever read. If you want to discover a truly phenomenal writer, one with as much pathos and humanity as tenderness and good humor, with some of the most stunningly beautiful passages imaginable... I would suggest Mr Laxness to you! No, I would almost demand that you let this saint into your life. These two books are something on another level ...more
Abhishek Ganguly
Dec 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Halldor Laxness introduces readers to a new genre of prose, where each line is like a divine sonnet.

What makes World Light so incredible is the story of pain and the beauty it brings with it. The protagonist dreams and yearns to be a poet; the consequence of being respected or shunned is immaterial to him. Through the physical and emotional torment of life, he wages on, painting each moment with beautiful rhymes.

Halldor Laxness definitely knows how to render pain a charm that makes his readers
Jun 22, 2007 rated it really liked it
When I run out of the Laxness works that are available in English, I will have to learn Icelandic.
Sep 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, literature
to be clear: i am not worthy to review an author of the caliber of Halldor Laxness. yet his novels stand on my "holy books" shelf, the one reserved for the titles i would take with me if the house were on fire, or if i were exiled to, say, lampedusa.

henry miller once said one would learn everything about the world by just reading a single book for the rest of one's life, and for me that book would have to be laxness' "independent people" - with "world light" a close follow.

words fail. this is
Feb 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing
World Light is a mammoth novel, but once you start it you wouldn't want it any other way. It begins with Olafur Karason's childhood in an abusive household, basically an orphan, and spans his life till old age. He is bedridden throughout much of his childhood, and is eventually sent away to live in another part of the country. He is quickly healed and from then on leads a life of quiet simplicity, filled with troubles that affect him but never quite seem to bother him, as he (more then any other ...more
May 02, 2010 rated it really liked it
This novel is SO bizarre and requires patience but two months later I'm still thinking about it. If you're new to Laxness, I recommended reading Independent People first. But my god, the man can write. Every character gets in my head and stays there--permanently. I was inspired to write this review after scanning the last ten books I've read and realizing that this is one my mind keeps returning to. Unlike Wolf Hall, for example, which was a great read, but one I haven't thought about once since ...more
David Peters
Oct 02, 2009 rated it liked it
To read Icelandic literature means visiting the work of Laxness, considered to be their greatest writer and the winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1955. It seems the strength of his writing is in making broad statements about society/life, without explicitly coming to definitive conclusions. Anotherwords it is left to the reader to mull, debate, and contemplate their own place in life through the work. On a specific note we did have the great pleasure to visit the Haldor Laxness museum ...more
Feb 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone
This is a novel about truth, beauty and art, to put it simply. It is abstract and often bizarre in both style and content.
The story is of Ólafur of Ljósavík, an orphan mistreated by his foster family and who spends much of his childhood lying in bed immobilised by illness until he is cured by an elf. It follows his entire life from early childhood, through many love affairs, a tortured marriage, several children, struggles with poverty and a stint in prison for sleeping with his teenage student,
Apr 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
For me a farewell, and glimmering recollection of Iceland. But more than that; a mirror. "Every transgression is a game, every grief easy to bear compared with having discovered beauty; it was at once the crime that could never be atoned, and the hurt that could never be assuaged, the tear that could never be dried."
Justin Evans
Jul 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Not bad, but not quite at the level of Independent People or Iceland's Bell, for the pretty straightforward reason that it's much harder to care about a mediocre poet than it is to care about the people in Laxness' other two doorstops.
Tracey the Bookworm
Jun 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nobelwinners
A quote from the author:

Human beings, in point of fact, are lonely by nature, and one should feel sorry for them and love them and mourn with them. It is certain that people would understand one another better and love one another more if they would admit to one another how lonely they were, how sad they were in their tormented, anxious longings and feeble hopes.

I think this sums up this book. It seems to me to be an attempt by one man, Olaf, who is a sensitive soul in this insensitive world, to
Sep 04, 2013 rated it it was ok
Read this introduction in this paperback edition (first!): It says a lot about this very long and mostly somber book, in which 'not a lot happens.' It is difficult to say that the main character even has 'the strength of his own convictions' because fairly baseless moods seem to affect his inner life a lot, and strongly so, when they take hold of his mind and drive his actions (which are few, and not heroic ones. Example: as a teenage invalid, many of the first 200 pages of the book take place ...more
Kathryn  Bullen
Nov 20, 2015 rated it liked it
One of the most perplexing novels I've read - sometimes intriguing, sometimes dull, often truly sad. It describes the life of one man, Olaf Karason, from his austere beginnings as a baby being left in a sack by his mother with foster parents in rural Iceland, through a series of unfortunate events towards his ultimate self realisation of the creative spirit.

Unloved by his foster family, the child decides to become a great poet but suffers misunderstanding and abuse. His relationships are full
Corey Ryan
Nov 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
Wasn't the easiest book I've ever read. I almost abandoned it many times. The Wilde like aphorisms on love and poetry and politics started weighing me down. At some points it was one of those books that every line screams to be placed on the front of a quote card for someone like my fiancée to place upon her wall and ponder countless times. And that's all and good for a couple of lines, but there were millions. It became almost too witty. But that aside, I loved the book. The Icelandic allusions ...more
Mar 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book's protagonist reminds me of a combination of Joyce's Stephen Dedalus and Voltaire's Candide. Enjoyable, and at times beautiful, this book really struck a chord with me. Certainly my experience was enhanced by reading this while I was in Iceland, but I would have enjoyed it even with little knowledge of Iceland. Outstanding book that reads like Joyce and Voltaire combined with Iceland as its setting.
Nicki Markus
Dec 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Another stunning work by Laxness, World Light is full of wry humour but also great emotion. Olaf is a wonderfully engaging character for whom you can't help but root despite his faults. As always, Laxness captures an amazing sense of place and creates beautifully original, well-rounded and memorable characters. This is a long-ish read, but it's well worth the time and effort.
Sep 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing
William T. Vollman praised Halldor Laxness in an interview and inspired me to read World Light. I haven't enjoyed reading a book so much since reading Don Quixote almost 30 years ago. World Light is tender, tragic, sad, hilarious, humane.
Mar 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
"Soon the sun of the day of resurrection will shine on the bright paths where she awaits her poet.

And beauty shall reign alone."
I believe this is the best book I have ever read. What a joy to read, I reread many pages just for enjoyment, and laughed out loud a lot.
Jun 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
a long story written like poetry. A beautiful story.
The world of Laxness is one of ambiguity. Sex, the meaning of religion, the relevance of ancient spirits, money, the value of life are all questioned in a book which is hard to review as Laxness is of an intellect well above mine.
Life in Iceland is tough enough where the poor are extremely poor and the rich are only a better off - they are just better at bluffing. Attempts to obtain better working conditions fail. Attempts at new industry fail. Subsistence farming at least means survival. And
Oct 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
While this 600 page tomb doesn't read fast and is a bit repetitive, there's no denying this is a marvelous book worth reading. Not heavy on plot, this humane book examines the life of a man with pantheist inclinations who has deep feeling for Nature, poetry, literature, and beauty in all its forms, who struggles in a world where people like himself are so often viewed as useless wretches. The book is at times psychological, philosophical, absurdist, and historical, written almost always with dry ...more
Dec 01, 2017 rated it liked it
Not only did this take me a long time to read, but a long time to decide how to rate and review. I absolutely adored Independent People, despite its bleakness. Laxness' other bookend, World Light, prompted pretty much the opposite reaction. I found myself returning to Goodreads to try to understand how the majority of reviewers had unequivocally handed it 5 stars, with little success. I trudged through, relentlessly flicking to the end to confirm that yes, it was still 600 pages long, it didn't ...more
Dan Plonsey
Oct 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Laxness has become one of my favorite authors, on the basis of this book and Independent People and Iceland's Bell. World Light has as its central character a Poet/Writer who both is and is not of this world. (I capitalize Poet, because in this book people are often referred to by their noblest attribute rather than name.) Among other things, this is a book about love vs. justice, obligation vs. desire, metaphysical vs. real, and the nature of beauty. The poet endures great sadness and ...more
Sep 20, 2011 rated it liked it
The appeal of this book was in the writing, not in the main character. Poor Olafur was a rather frustrating character. I could pity his condition, but so wanted to seize him and shake him! He saw beauty in nature and had a bland goodwill to all, including those least worthy of it, yet was quite oblivious of the need to support his family in any practical way.

There was a relentless bleakness in his condition. His brutal childhood is reminiscent of Dickens, or, in an Australian context, Albert
Andrew Cooper
Apr 11, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: iceland, scandinavian
From reading Independent People and Under the Glacier, I recognized Laxness' sardonic humor throughout the book and for the times I found myself laughing out loud, I had to give the book a starting point of at least 3 stars, however for it's length (600 pages) it didn't carry the same epic weight of Independent People. It's 4 parts seemed too removed from each other as we followed Ólafur Kárason, epic poet, through his life, which didn't allow me to rate higher than that 3-star point. Even his ...more
Rob T
Sep 17, 2012 rated it liked it
I didn't immensely enjoy Independent People when I read it, but it's taken firm root in my memory. I like that I read it, even if I didn't totally dig it while I was mid-page. Remembering Independent People fondly, I decided to try World Light. Time will tell, but my first impression is that Independent People is a stronger exploration of many of the same ideas. If Independent People is about politics and economics, then this is its political- and art-focused accompaniment. Our protagonist is ...more
Jul 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
A beautiful comic and tragic tale of the life of an Icelandic orphan who's love of poetry both saves him and renders him forever an outsider to his small community. I've become a great fan of Halldor Laxness in the last year, and I loved this novel, but it probably isn't the first Halldor Laxness novel I would read. Long and sometimes slow, despite the fact I basically loved it, it was still a bit of a slog. If you are beginning with Laxness, start with Under the Glacier or The Fish Can Sing. ...more
Danny Dyer
Jul 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
World Light meanders and drags on structurally and therefore pales a bit when compared to Laxness' masterpiece, Independent People, yet select moments of the author's sensitivity and impeccable prose will stand out for the reader in their poignant, if morally confounded, treatment of the human condition. In particular, World Light features one of the most outstanding break-up scenes ever written--funny, touching, and absurd all at once, as all break-ups tend to go. Compare World Light's conflict ...more
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Books of Literatu...: World Light 14 8 Jun 30, 2018 03:53PM  

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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 only 17, the beginning of a long literary career of more than 60 books, including novels, short stories, poetry, and plays. Confirmed a Catholic in 1923, he later moved away from religion and for a ...more

Other books in the series

Heimsljós (6 books)
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  • Hús skáldsins
  • Världens ljus och himlens skönhet
  • Fegurð himinsins
  • Himlens skönhet (Heimsljós #3-4)

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“He continued on, on to the glacier, towards the dawn, from ridge to ridge, in deep, new-fallen snow, paying no heed to the storms that might pursue him. As a child he had stood by the seashore at Ljósavík and watched the waves soughing in and out, but now he was heading away from the sea. "Think of me when you are in glorious sunshine." Soon the sun of the day of resurrection will shine on the bright paths where she awaits her poet.
And beauty shall reign alone.”
“Þar sem jökulinn ber við loft hættir landið að vera jarðneskt, en jörðin fær hlutdeild í himninum, þar búa ekki framar neinar sorgir og þessvegna er gleðin ekki nauðsynleg, þar ríkir fegurðin ein, ofar hverri kröfu.” 7 likes
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