small web site is posted to provide English speakers with help in locating the
available works of
more fortunate side, recent interest in Laxness, perhaps sparked by two
remarkable articles by novelist, poet and essayist Brad Leithauser (see below) in the
York Review of Books, has resulted in the issuance of Laxness titles
long out of print, most recently of Iceland’s
Bell. Others are available from
Icelandic publishers and, sometimes for dear prices, by searching used book
dealers on the Internet. The best
Laxness collections at libraries that I have found are at the Universities of
Icelandic is a “fossil” language, closely related to Old Norse (for which Old Icelandic is the available written form). Guides to the pronunciation of modern Icelandic can be found here, here and here.
unfamiliar with Laxness, start with the Leithauser articles mentioned
above. The first was “A Small Country’s Great Book,”
that appeared in NYRB
The 1995 article on Laxness’ most famous and easily found book, Independent People, triggered my interest in his work. Like Leithauser, I have made multiple readings of it, each time finding a new book. Here is a short excerpt (Ásta Sóllilja is the stepdaughter and flower in the life of the book’s other main character, sheep farmer Bjartur of Summerhouses):
And Ásta Sóllilja, it was she who swept on wings of poetry into those spheres which she had sensed as if in distant murmur one spring night last year when she was reading about the little girl who journeyed over the seven mountains; and the distant murmur had suddenly swelled to a song in her ears, and her soul found here for the first time its origin and its descent; happiness, fate, sorrow, she understood them all; and many other things. When a man looks at a flowering plant growing slender and helpless up in the wilderness among a hundred thousand stones, and he has found this plant only by chance, then he asks: Why is it that life is always trying to burst forth? Should one pull up this plant and use it to clean one's pipe? No, for this plant also broods over the limitation and the unlimitation of all life, and lives in the love of the good beyond these hundred thousand stones, like you and me; water it with care, but do not uproot it, maybe it is little Ásta Sóllilja.[ii]
The newest Laxness book in English translation is The Great Weaver from Kashmir (Archipelago Books, 2008), his first major novel. It is also available in electronic form for the Amazon Kindle.
following Laxness books are currently in print from Vintage Books in the
Laxness books are currently in print in English in
here, one has to rely on dealers in used books and the prices can vary from
very cheap to very expensive. At the high
end, one can find first editions in English signed by Laxness at $1,000 and
$1,500 and a set of 31 Icelandic language first editions for $3,500. At the low end, one can find used copies of Independent People for a few
dollars. The best such source for
Laxness books is Advanced Book Exchange Inc., a web site featuring the
inventory of multiple book dealers around the world, abebooks.com. Other used book sources include alibris.com, amazon.com,
I have also found at used book dealers the following books in English in which Laxness contributed among other authors:
Laxness’ work has been translated into about 30 languages. Click here for a bibliography, as complete as possible, of Laxness’ works in Icelandic (excluding most of those to which he contributed only partially) and English (including those to which he contributed only partially). The owner of this site would appreciate knowing publication details on works in both languages not shown here.
Guđmundsson’s exhaustive 2004 biography of Laxness, The Islander, was published in English in a somewhat abridged form
in2008 (but still 486 pp.) by Maclehose Press,
Dennis L. Haarsager
Haarsager <at> gmail <dot> com
Updated January 29, 2010, May 28, 2007, April 26, 2005. Links last accessed November 2, 2003. Please report broken links.