There couldn’t be a better time to read Halldór Laxness’ Independent People. I’m finding the world of an Icelandic sheep farmer cooling to this mid-westerner in the throes of a prematurely hot summer. Yesterday, mowing the lawn in 90 degrees, I tried to imagine reindeer riding in order to summon wintry images. I also thought a bit about independence as it’s portrayed in the novel.
The character of Bjartur the sheepcrofter views himself as impervious to the whims of supernatural beings that populate the lore and poetry of his fellow crofters. He scoffs at the beliefs of his wife, Rosa, and refuses to allow her any acknowledgement of her superstitions. He looks at his life through one lens, that of his account ledger, and prides himself on maintaining only minimal ties to the people who surround him.
…he was only filled with the modern spirit and determination to be a free man on his own land, with the same independence as the other generations that had settled there before him.
Trouble is, that spirit and determination has cost Bjartur, but he’s unawares as of yet. I’m not quite half-way through Independent People, and it’s not a zippy read. But I’m finding that incredible sense of immersion that sometimes comes in longer novels, entry into another world that is at first wildly foreign, yet slowly begins to feel like home.