Roughton’s beautiful, poetic translation of Laxness’s novel tunes readers in to the frustrated genius of its principal character, far better than that character’s own lengthy philosophical discourses do. Shortly after World War I, Steinn, a young Icelandic poet-philosopher, heads abroad to make himself “the most perfect man on earth” and perceive “glory on the visage of things.” Leaving behind his homeland and would-be sweetheart, Diljá, for Europe, Steinn proves a master of any doctrine he cares to take up, but fails to satisfy his longing for perfection. His “aesthetic soul” leads Steinn to embrace communism while abandoning his own mother, and later to join the order of the Benedictine monks at the expense of worldly intimacy. Much of Steinn’s agony stems from the fact that his quest for perfection is solipsistic; even in his most pious phase, he shows utter disregard for people, including Diljá and his own family. Though he’s destined to fall from the get-go, it’s intriguing to see how Laxness’s antihero dives into manifold ideologies, achieving essentially the same result each time.