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." 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 parlor 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.
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About the Author
Halldór Laxness (1902-1998) is the undisputed master of modern Icelandic fiction. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1955 "for his vivid epic power which has renewed the great narrative art of Iceland." His body of work includes novels, essays, poems, plays, stories, and memoirs: more than sixty books in all. His works available in English include Independent People, The Fish Can Sing, World Light, Under the Glacier, Iceland's Bell, and Paradise Reclaimed. Philip Roughton’s translation of Iceland's Bell received the American-Scandinavian Foundation Translation Prize in 2001 and second prize in the 2000 BCLA John Dryden Translation Competition. His translation of Halldór Guðmundsson’s The Islander: A Biography of Halldór Laxness was recently released in the United Kingdom.
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Once two swans flew overhead, eastward.
Excerpted from "The Great Weaver From Kashmir"
Copyright © 2008 Halldor Laxness.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Written when he was 25 Laxness's first major novel as it happens was The Great Weaver from Kashmir. In some respects it's an odd book and I feel obliged to warn potential readers that the first half of it or so meanders about a lot--the second half brings everything into very sharp focus though and is where maybe Halldor first really finds his voice as one of the greatest novel writers of the 20th century. Going into this I had a limited (and still do actually) idea about Halldor's biography. Referencing Great Weaver we find in Merriam Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature these comments--'[Great Weaver]-is about a young man who is torn between his religious faith and the pleasures of the world'. Right afterwards it mentions Laxness aftterwards going to the United States where he turned to socialism. Onward to Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia which comments further--'As a world traveler, he discovered Expressionism in Germany and Surrealism in France, both of which influenced his work, and he was converted to Catholicism in Luxembourg.' Mention is then made of the Great Weaver as 'reflect(ing) his spiritual turmoil and the discontent that led him to the church. A meeting with Upton Sinclair during a visit to the U. S. caused another conversion, this time to communism.'I reference these sources because I think it's useful in order to understand the motivation behind his first major work. Anyway one might conclude that Laxness was drawn to spiritual and social justice issues--a kind of liberation theology before its time if you will. Anyway the hero if you will of Great Weaver Steinn Ellidi is a young Icelander poet who in the first parts of the book lives a somewhat debauched existence. Even so there is physical attraction and love for the young and much more innocent Dilja who is completely unaware of Steinn's carousings. Steinn goes on a journey for several years staying out of contact with friends and family. A series of epiphanic moments and events however changes the course of Steinn's life. A discussion with a Catholic monk on a train journey about the existence (or not) of God temporarily gets shunted to the back of Steinn's brain but with time and the disastrous direction his life seems to be moving in that conversation begins to obsess him more and more. Feeling at the point of suicide he tracks down the same monk in a monastery in Belgium. In the meantime Dilja--not having heard from Steinn in years marries Steinn's cousin Ornulfur. It is not a happy marraige. Steinn more or less at this point has decided to dedicate his life to Jesus Christ and to enter the Benedictine order. He longs to return to Iceland one last time though and is given permission. Upon his return--he is surprised that Dilja who had made promises to him has in the meantime had married Ornolfur. Not withstanding all the years of his non communication he feels a bit betrayed. His family as well is non-plussed by his reappearance and really don't know what to make of his conversion to Catholicism--odd for an Icelander--in any case they are all respected Lutheran business people who have never taken their religion all that seriously--Dilja as well has been brought up that way. Steinn's confrontational manner and his obsession at bringing his conversion and beliefs into practically every discussion puts a lot of strain into every conversation when he's among them. And meanwhile Dilja despite all that and despite her marraige unhappy as it is--is drawn towards Steinn and in truth Steinn as well is drawn towards Dilja--and so a struggle literally for Steinn's soul takes place between the more secular happiness life with Dilja offers and the spiritual happiness that the church offers. Dilja has no idea what she's up against. She is wrestling with the wind. Thinking about her dilemna a song comes to my mind--a Canadian band Cowboy Junkies--'Misguided angel, hanging over me--Heart like a Gabriel, pure white as ivory--Soul, like a Lucifer--black gold, like a pi