Don Watson on Halldór Laxness

Halldór Laxness
Halldór Laxness

“Those who are too young to remember might get some idea of what this world was like by downloading Halldór Laxness’ 1934 novel «Independent People». There are surely no characters in literature, those of Dickens included, whose lives are as bleak and impoverished as the Icelandic family of the novel’s hero, Bjartur of Summerhouses. It is the decade before World War I. For six months of every year this crofter and his illiterate children are attended by ice and snow and darkness. Poverty, hunger and filth beset them for all 12. Should the world brighten for a day or two in spring, it is only as an overture to a fresh calamity. Salted fish and the rhymes of the old sagas are all they have to keep them going, along with Bjartur’s obstinate will to remain ‘independent’ on his impossibly unproductive holding.”

“Then, deep in the cruellest winter, when Bjartur is away and the desolation and suffering of the children are becoming more than they or any reader can bear, a man staggers in from a snowstorm, and says that he has come to teach them.”

“At once the ‘light of learning began to shine’.”

— from Don Watson, «The Monthly», at http://www.themonthly.com.au/comment-phoney-education-don-watson-4334

From Wikipedia, with some minor additions:

Halldór Kiljan Laxness (born Halldór Guðjónsson) (born on the day of Shakespeare’s birthday, 23 April, but in 1902, died 8 February 1998) was a twentieth-century Icelandic writer. Throughout his career Laxness wrote poetry, newspaper articles, plays, travelogues, short stories, and novels. Major influences on his writings include August Strindberg, Sigmund Freud, Sinclair Lewis, Upton Sinclair, Bertolt Brecht and Ernest Hemingway. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1955, like Australian novelist Patrick White, the only person of his nationality to do so.