The novel Salka Valka - revival or class struggle? By Nils-Petter Enstad
Note: This is an adapted Google translation provided for background information only, and is not meant for scholarly use.
In 1932 came the second volume of the novel Salka Valka, which was Halldór Laxness’ breakthrough as a writer. It is one of the relatively few works in world literature where the Salvation Army is featured. Other works that can be said of are Selma Lagerlöf's novel Körkarlen (1912) and George Bernard Shaw's play Major Barbara (1905). The manuscript was written while Laxness lived in the U.S. and was originally a screenplay. But when the film was shelved the author made it into a novel. The protagonist is the young girl, Salvor Valgerdsdóttir, a name both her mother and others shorten to Salka Valka. We follow her life from when she was a little girl arriving, along with her mother Sigurlina, in the fishing village Osore by Axlarfjord, to when she is an adult, independent woman. Mother and daughter are taken into a Salvation Army home and are invited to attend the church that is in the same house. They go to church service, and the same evening Sigurlina decides to follow Jesus. Throughout the story Sigurlina is as equally sincere in her desire to follow Jesus as she is unstoppable in pursuit of love. But after being disappointed yet another time, she takes her life by going into the sea.
Two Salvation Roads
The two parts of the novel represent a quest to find what could be two roads to salvation of mankind: Christianity or socialism. Laxness allows the Army to represent Christianity's salvation in the first part of the novel. This part is called Thou pure vine... which is also the title of a song that is widely used in the open - and low church in Iceland. This song is the engine of Sigurlina’s faith. She sings it constantly, and comforts herself with the words in the text. When Salvor arranges the funeral for Sigurlina’s suicide, the priest asks her daughter if he could tell something about her mother’s Christian virtues, but her mother’s conversion to Jesus at the Salvation Army is something he deems not worth mentioning. When Salvor mentions a hymn stanza of the vine, he becomes angry: Such a silly song can neither be sung or quoted at a funeral. Once outside the parish, Salka Valka begins defiantly singing in her mother’s favorite song, but then she must admit the priest is right: Basically it is a silly song. And so ends the first part.
The Salvation Army Song of the vine is a tribute to Jesus Christ as the true vine. It was written by school teacher and hymn writer Sigur Bjorn Sveinsson (1878-1950). As a young man he was an officer in the Army, and he has greatly influenced song by the Salvation Army in Iceland. Of the 490 songs in the last edition of The Salvation Army Icelandic Songbook, had Sigur Bear 220 written and translated 79 He is also represented in the Icelandic church hymnal. In the Registry author says only that he was a teacher at the Westman Islands. He is sung probably more in the revival communities than in the churches, and the song that gives its name to the first part of the novel is one of these, and probably the best known. Sigur Bjorn and Laxness were also old acquaintances and friends. But if the environment’s set is called the Salvation Army, Salka Valka is not a novel about the Salvation Army. Laxness has taken the opportunity to describe an environment he knows relatively little about, and the result is that it can easily be perceived as ridicule. In the Norwegian version of the novel, this is further reinforced both by the translator John Solheim, who is not familiar with common Christian parlance, and in that he has done some pretty helpless translations from Icelandic songs which are also found in Norwegian. The title is just one example of this: Even though we speak of "vine" in other contexts, we talk in Christian contexts on the vine, as when Jesus says: I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener ... (John 15.1 ).
In the second part of the novel, called Gull bird, it is socialism and collective thought which attempt to become a salvation for mankind. Salka Valka can be read as two versions of the same parable. The first part tells about the Christian faith struggle against sin, in the second part the socialist struggle against capitalism. Both parables represent the sailor Steinthor as evil. In the first part he seduces Sigurlina, makes her pregnant, runs away from her and causes her death, in the second part he is the capitalist who own boats and their use, and therefore all the little community in the palm of his hand. The first part he is the salvation soldiers evil counterpart, with the song of faith in Jesus as the true vine, in the second part it is the young communist agitator Arnaldur Bjørnsson who is the savior. He gets the fishermen to found a union and strike to crack Steinthor but as soon Arnaldur is raised, all the old ways are come back again. Ultimately, it is perhaps the true love between man and woman which can save the world? This is suggested only, and with many question marks after them. But hesitant faith in love was still the closest you get to a credo of Iceland's most famous writer since Snorri Sturluson.
Halldór Laxness lived from 1902 to 1998 . As a young man he converted to the Catholic Church, but later broke with Christianity. He was a Communist, but broke with communism as well. Later he said: “I believed in seven teachings. Reality killed them in the same order that I believed in them. I think the world except for the teachings.” He was active as a writer for more than 60 years. The last book of his called Days HJA munkum in 1987 (Swedish translation 1989). Here he tells of his youth Catholicism. After that he was silent as a writer. Even he said it this way: “When you have written between 50 and 60 books, some of them quite thick too, you reach a point where you feel you have nothing left to say.” Towards the end of his life he oriented himself towards Christianity again, and the funeral took place from the Catholic cathedral in Reykjavík. He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1955, and is currently the only Icelander who has received this award.
Nils-Petter Enstad (b. 1953) worked as an officer in Iceland from 1974 to 1976.