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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 One, 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.” Half a decade and myriad transformations later, Steinn returns to Iceland. As he scoffs at his quaint, provincial island, the otherworldly beauty of the land, the depth of Iceland’s culture and traditions, and the intrigues of and power plays of the locals come alive. The Great Weaver from Kashmir is as much a domestic parlor drama as it is a novel of ideas; it can be seen as the downward spiral of an antihero or as the redemption of a sinner; it is simultaneously 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 caused a stir in Iceland, which would soon reverberate throughout Europe. 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 groundbreaking modernist classic.
Laxness is a beacon in twentieth-century literature, a writer of splendid originality, wit, and feeling."
Laxness is a poet who writes at the edge of the pages, a visionary who allows us a plot: He takes a Tolstoyan overview, he weaves in a Waugh-like humor: it is not possible to be unimpressed."
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."