The Rediscovery of Halldór Laxness

Salvatore Scibona at The New Yorker:

During the final months of the Second World War, the publisher Alfred A. Knopf commissioned a reader’s report, consisting of a form on blue paper with a few queries, regarding a translated novel it was considering by an Icelander named Halldór Laxness. Section B of the form instructed the reader, “If you recommend us to publish the book give your chief reason in a single sentence.” The reader replied, “Those who read this book will never forget it.”

The novel, “Independent People,” tells the story of an Icelandic farmer who renames himself Bjartur of Summerhouses, after the wretched farm that he has managed to buy for himself following eighteen years of servitude. No obstacle of God or man will separate him from his independence, even if he pulverizes himself and his family in the process. Against this grim backdrop, the reader observed, “Certain passages are of such beauty, so filled with an understanding of human dignity and pathos, so richly imaginative, that I want them permanently available for myself, my family, and my friends.” Yet the report projected meagre sales.

more here.