Independent People is not a book for everyone. It is a long, slow and sometimes punishing read. Laxness paints the sheep farmer's life in bleak tones. Think of Solzhenitsyn's Siberia or Rolvaag's Dakota prairie. So dismal is the mood at times that the reader feels the imminent onset of seasonal affective disorder. But Independent People also contains moments of pure, distilled beauty so arresting they seem to stand out from the cold landscape like stars in the ink of darkness. Bjartur of Summerhouses is a true epic hero. As Monte Christo is to vengeance, Bjartur is to self-determination. His emotional intransigence and the suffering he visits on all those close to him is balanced only by the enormity and brute force of his will. Asta Sollilja, his daughter, is the only possible counterweight to his obstinacy, in both emotional and literary terms. She is strong and sensitive, beautiful and grotesque, half Bjartur, half anti-Bjartur. Her duality provides the story's central drama and the book's over-arching metaphor. Masterfully constructed of vignettes woven into small books, Independent People is seamless. Laxness's voice is clear and lyric, never showy. The writing is fresh and modern, yet seems to be channeled from Iceland's mythic past. This is a land populated by many dark spirits and one never feels quite free of their presence here. Certain images from Independent People are indelibly etched on my consciousness. A man violently and accidentally riding a reindeer. A girl longing by a window for a stranger she's met just once. A young man seduced back to the home he has left by a siren on horseback. There is something more to why I love this book. I spent a week in Iceland in July 1998, and was transfixed by its rugged, austere beauty. The feeling I had while reading Independent People was the same feeling that possessed me the entire time I was in Iceland. It was the cold, astonishing sensation of stepping outside your self and gazing on the topography of your own heart.