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Christmas Book Flood | Recommending reading

The Great Weaver from Kashmir

1 The Great Weaver from KashmirStand-alone novel

Published in the USA by Archipelago Books.

Synopsis

The Great Weaver from Kashmir is Nobel Prize winner Halldór Laxness’ first major novel, the book that propelled Icelandic literature into the modern world.

Shortly after World War I, Steinn Elliði, a young philosopher-poet dandy, leaves the physical and cultural confines of Iceland’s shores for mainland Europe, seeking to become ‘the most perfect man on earth.’

His journey leads us through a huge range of moral, philosophical, religious, political, and social realms, from hedonism to socialism to aestheticism to Benedictine monasticism, exploring, as Laxness puts it, ‘the far-ranging variety in the life of a soul, with the swings on a pendulum oscillating between angel and devil.’

Upon his return to Iceland, Steinn finds himself more conflicted than before, torn between love of the beauty and traditions of his homeland, longing and regret for his great adolescent love, Diljá, and his newfound monastic ideal, forcing him to make choices with fateful consequences.

The Great Weaver from Kashmir is as much a domestic parlour drama as it is a novel of ideas; it can be seen as the downward spiral of an antihero or an exploration of idealism and loss; it is at once an inward-looking and daring early novel and a modern epic spun by a superior craftsman.

Published when Laxness was only twenty-five years old, The Great Weaver from Kashmir’s radical experimentation created a stir in Iceland.

Appearing in English now for the first time, The Great Weaver is much more than a first major work by a literary master – it is a remarkable modernist classic written literally on the cultural and geographical fringes of modern Europe.

Reviews

‘Though he’s destined to fall from the get-go, it’s intriguing to see how Laxness’s antihero dives into manifold ideologies, achieving essentially the same result each time’ Publisher’s Weekly

‘Laxness is a beacon in twentieth-century literature, a writer of splendid originality, wit, and feeling’ Alice Munro

‘Laxness brought the Icelandic novel out from the sagas’ shadow … to read Laxness is also to understand why he haunts Iceland – he writes the unearthly prose of a poet cased in the perfection of a shell of plot, wit, and clarity’ Julian Evans, The Guardian