I’m just finishing an extraordinary novel, “Independent People” by Halldor Laxness. Laxness (1902 – 1998), whom you’ve surely never heard of (I certainly hadn’t till I began this book), was Icelandic, and won the Nobel Prize in 1955. [That's not, mind you, why I picked the book up; a lot of second-rate and even third-rate authors have picked up the Nobel Prize (Sully Prudhomme, Pearl Buck, John Galsworthy, Dario Fo), and an equally astonishing number of the greatest writers of the 20th century somehow missed the prize (Vladimir Nabokov, Joyce, Kafka, Proust . . . ) that the designation doesn't mean a great deal. But I did notice, on the book jacket, that it had a long and laudatory blurb by Brad Leithauser, who's one of my personal favorites, so I thought I should give it a try]
The book is set in Iceland in the early part of the 20th century, and revolves around Bjartur Jonsson, owner of a small sheep farm out on the icelandic moors, and his family. Even if the characters were not drawn with astonishing vividness, the pictures he draws of what life was like in such a place — the stink and the smell of it — are quite unforgettable. And the characters and the relationships among them – Bjartur, his children and wives, the neighboring farmers, and especially his daughter, Asta Sollilja — are deeply profound and very, very moving. Highly recommended.
[and PS -- the wikipedia entry for this book gets it all wrong -- it reads a lot like a 12-grader's term paper -- so don't let that dissuade you]