THE LAUREATE: Halldor Laxness was the only laureate from Iceland. He was born in 1902 (I think the first laureate born in the 20th century) outside of Reykjavik (at a place called Laxness, incidentally). He was briefly Catholic, and then met up with Sinclair Lewis and became interested in socialism. His career as an artist was long and varied: he wrote novels, short stories, poetry, plays and travelogues. He won the Nobel in 55 and the Soviet World Peace Council Literary Prize for some reason. He died in 1998
MY EXPERIENCE WITH HIM: I love Halldor Laxness. I’ve read four or five of his novels that have been translated into English, and I am strongly considering learning Icelandic for the express purpose of translating the rest. Arguably, he’s the reason I started thinking about this project in the first place: A used bookstore clerk (at McKeown’s Books and Difficult Music in New Orleans; go there) recommended a small volume of Laxness’ short stories because he won the Nobel. Laxness has a great saga-esque sense of humor: very dry and deadpan. Often, him just observing something as something that demands observation is hilarious.
WHAT I’M READING: Paradise Reclaimed, the slightly fictionalized account of a famous Mormon Icelander.REVIEW: Laxness, as usual, is the best. So, the story breaks into three parts: in the first part, Steinar, our hero, has a wonderful horse. The king of Denmark comes to Iceland to give the Icelanders their freedom, so Steinar offers the horse to the king as a gift. In the second part, Steinar goes to Copenhagen to present the king of Denmark and his royal relatives (the crowned heads of Europe) an intricately crafted wooden chest that none of them can figure out. The third part consists of Steinar traveling to Salt Lake City and making adobe bricks. But man, it’s amazing.
RECOMMENDED: Well, yeah. Laxness is the best. The. Best.
WHAT’S NEXT: Mo Yan’s Garlic Ballads. China banned it after the Tianenmen Square business, so it must be pretty good.
SPECIAL NOTE: My friend, who is an ex-Mormon, is planning on reading this and writing a review for me later on. I will post it when that happens. He should have some entertaining things to say.