Halldór Kiljan Laxness (1902-1998)

Halldór Laxness, author of 62 books in a span of 68 years, is the undisputed giant of modern Icelandic literature. Born Halldór Guðjónsson in Reykjavík, he left Iceland after WWI to travel. In France he converted to Catholicism, adopting the last name Laxness and middle name Kiljan, after the Irish saint. In 1927 he published The Great Weaver from Kashmir, his first major novel. Three years later, after an ill-fated attempt to break into the Hollywood film industry, he returned to Iceland and became immersed in socialism, which greatly informed his novels: Lead characters are typically impoverished and exploited by a corrupt establishment. But his most overriding, lifelong subject was simply the common man; and Catholicism, socialism, absurdism, and Taoism all framed this concern at different stages in his life. After winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1955, he was overjoyed that among his many congratulatory notes was one from a local Icelandic society of pipe layers; it was the only card to which he responded.

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