Salka Valka – A Political Love Story, as Halldór called the second half of the novel, tells the story of the headstrong pauper Salka Valka from the age of ten to twenty-five and is an excellent book for adolescents, girls especially. Why then did I not read it earlier? The answer is personal. My father was a male chauvinistic working class man, and he adored Laxness’ books, especially Independent People. But what he saw in the novels was what he wanted to see, and his endless quotes from Laxness were not tempting for a girl growing up. So although I loved my father dearly, I hated his idol and did not read his novels until I had to; at university. Then I read practically all of them during one winter, mostly aloud to my husband (we had no television but we did have a baby so we could not go out much). I was deeply moved by the story this first time through, and the final unforgettable sentences of Salka Valka still make me cry. Yet there is no other end possible. If life is to go on for both of them, Arnaldur and Salka must part.
Salka Valka is a milestone in Laxness’ career but people do not agree as to whether it is his last juvenile novel or his first mature one. The very interesting thing about the novel is that it started out as a manuscript for a motion picture, written in Los Angeles, and it so happens that this manuscript was printed for the first time this year, both in English and Icelandic, in the literary magazine Tímarit Máls og menningar (1/2004). Halldór Laxness went to L.A. in 1927, determined to become a scriptwriter in Hollywood. “The film life here is magnificently interesting and I have good hopes to get into that as soon as I have written something in English,” he writes to his fiancée in Iceland. He wanted Greta Garbo to play the main character in the film which was to be called Salka Valka, A Woman in Pants or The Icelandic Whip! Unfortunately it all came to nothing.
But the novel lives and charms new readers constantly, because Salka Valka is such a fantastically real person. It is almost weird how much a young man of twenty-something in the late 1920s knows of the inner life of girls! If ever a novel convinced me that to be really outstanding, a writer has to be both man and woman, it is this wonderful book.
Seven other favourites
Snorri Sturluson (1178-1241): Edda. (Tales from Nordic Mythology. English translation 1987).
Hallgrímur Pétursson (1614-1674): Passíusálmarnir. (First printed 1666. Engl.transl.: Hymns of the Passion, 1966).
Stefán Hörður Grímsson (1920-2002): Hliðin á sléttunni. (Poems, 1970).
Laxdæla Saga. (13th century. Engl. transl.: The Saga of the People of Laxardal, 1997).
Sturlunga saga. (13th century. Engl. transl.: Sturlunga Saga, 1970-74).
Jónas Hallgrímsson (1807-1845): His collected poetry. (A selection translated by Dick Ringler in Bard of Iceland, 2002).
Halldór Laxness (1902-1998): Íslandsklukkan (1943-1946). transl: Iceland´s Bell.