Originally published in 1934 and out of print for decades, this book by the Nobel Prize-winning Icelandic author is a huge, skaldic treat filled with satire, humor, pathos, cold weather and sheep. Gudbjartur Jonsson becomes Bjartur of Summerhouses when, after 18 years of service to the Bailiff of Myri, he is able to buy his own croft.Publisher’s Weekly.
It was described to me as social realism as it follows the harsh reality agrarian Iceland, debt bondage, and the things that are lost in the quest to be free of obligation to anyone. Set across multiple vignettes of Iceland’s history it trace’s the family’s arc from servitude to owners of a sheep farm during World War 1.
It’s a sad story. The protagonist experiences loss after loss in pursuit of his independence. The dream of being indebted to no man comes up against the hypocritical fantasies of the upper classes and their own views of what constitutes a free life.
I am by no means living the kind of homesteading life of the rural agrarian Icelandic people. But the tragic losses that come as part of seeking to be less reliant on systems that enrich others (the church and local landed gentry feature) resonates. It is not easy to be independent people.
The cycles of nature and life come as they wish with little thought to one’s philosophies. Independence and dependence are just ideas that must face reality. I thought of Bjartur as we buried the dead laying hen in the back pasture.