Iceland at the beginning of the twentieth century, a poor fisherman's village: Here a unmarried woman stranded with her little daughter Salka, the girl and later the young woman will have to go through. Halldór Laxness, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, born in 1902, took his motto in his Salka Valka novel, which he founded at the beginning of the thirties, in the Icelandglocke, the Fischkonzert or The Atomstation. This motive, this leitmotif, is quite simply and unimpressively: “It is so hard to be a man.”
It is especially difficult in the fishing village described here. The favorite weather of the Creator in this place is rain or snow. In the moist houses of peat soils are rusted plants, they have neither flowers nor leaves, so they are strands. The people themselves are made of fish, bad potatoes and a dab of porridge. In the village there is the soul-life of wet feet or the healing arms. It sings of Jesus, the only salvific brandy. Other music is that of the blowflies over half-rotten fish. Cash has only one. Bogesen, the rich villa owner, an employer of fish processing, and the owner of a shop, this Bogesen writes to the people and distributes alms to them. What do people also need cash? After all, it is only because they do not owe their own burial at the end of their days. Bogesen, a patriarch who has some kindly affectionate features, Bogesen praises the village as a perfect place: there are now some gardens with cabbage vegetables and once a month the post steamer. Also, if you want, you can send telegrams to China, and the children learn valuable knowledge at school such as what is a major and what is a contemporary word. The growing Salka soon sees that this area is not the best of all worlds, especially Steinthor, her potential future stepfather, tries to abuse her in vain before he runs away before her marriage with her mother. The strong, independent Steinthor, which is also anarchist, always reappears in the village; it exerts a fascination with the girl. Salka, however, is also attracted by Arnaldur, who teaches her to read and write, before moving to distant advanced Denmark. When Arnaldur returned to Iceland, he and some new friends brought with him the godless idea of socialism, which a righteous merchant like Bogesen knows: Communists are paid by Denmark and they nationalize the women. The demonic Fatherland traitors are quite rightly founding a fishing union, a convenience store, a newspaper, and they are organizing a strike against Bogesen. Salka as a young day laborer is torn between the two men who are always absent and then very intensely present, Steinthor and Arnaldur. When she finally gets involved with the revolutionary Arnaldur, this love has only a limited time. For in fact, this Arnaldur is an idealist who loves abstract humanity more than the concrete villagers, who are lazy in the consumer society and are also prone to striking. Arnaldur is ultimately less an agitator than a poet, an “Elfenmann”, who longs for the dreamland USA and who will finally disappear there with the financial support of his Salka. Compared to this elfman, Salka feels just like a troll woman. Without any sadness, she says of herself: I am a misfortune because there was no birth control. They and their like, they were like animals.
Halldór Laxness in his numerous novels, Halldór Laxness, begins to gain a minimum of self-confidence and self-determination. The author, the son of a high ministerial official, who at an early age had an interlude with Catholicism, later sympathized with socialism, and he scourged poverty as a crime against humanity. His novels, however, are anything but dogmatic; The division of a feudalist society, which appears on the surface in a schematical manner, and which is in a state of upheaval, turns out to be very multifaceted on closer inspection. Laxness's material, as one of his biographers wrote, is not theories but human beings. Therefore, his books are always so surprising, so their attraction attracts.
Laxness, on the other hand, is regarded as one of the last national poets, who has helped Icelandic literature to connect with modernity. On the other hand, his novels, which so often speak of primitive country life, have always been understood and loved, even in highly-qualified societies like the USA. Laxness has his own grotesque humor, he is blasphemous and sarcastic, impatient and overbearing - and all this because he has a deep respect for the “hidden people”. The term “the hidden people”, which he describes, is not nationally intended, but rather refers to the individual small herbs everywhere, with all their weaknesses, jugglings, and contradictions. Salka, the heroine of his now-re-translated novel, is not one of those clumsy “strong women”, who have pervaded numerous contemporary books as bland as ghostly. Salka makes serious mistakes, but she makes energetic decisions. She is not a victorious type, but she is not a victim either. It leads a strange life of its own. And so one would also like to contradict the proposition that men are the “substance” of Laxness. There is nothing available, which is at his disposal. Laxness is not the great marionette player who pulls the threads - you can feel his books, how curious he is on humans, how surprising. This curiosity, it is this surprise that makes an “old” novel such as Salka Valka so exhilarating and giving him his disarming charm.