"This is a remarkable achievement and will hopefully lead to a revival of interest in an oft-overlooked literary genius." – Publishers Weekly, starred review
A fresh translation of Nobel Prize–winning author Halldór Laxness's modernist masterpiece, Salka Valka.
A feminist coming of age tale, an elegy to the plight of the working class and the corrosive effects of social and economic inequality, and a poetic window into the arrival of modernity in a tiny industrial town, Salka Valka is a novel of epic proportions, living and breathing with its expansive cast of characters, filled with tenderness, humor, and remarkable pathos.
On a mid-winter night, an eleven-year-old Salvör and her unmarried mother Sigurlína disembark at the remote, run-down fishing village of Óseyri, where life is "lived in fish and consists of fish." The two women struggle to make their way amidst the domineering, salt-worn men of the town and their unsolicited attention, and, after Sigurlína's untimely death, Salvör pays for her funeral and walks home alone, precipitating her coming of age as a daring, strong-willed young woman who chops off her hair, earns her own wages, educates herself through political and philosophical texts, and, most significantly, becomes an advocate for the town's working class, ultimately organizing a local chapter of the seamen's union.
This resonant story by Nobel laureate Laxness (The Atom Station), first published in 1931, follows a girl's coming of age amid poverty and social upheaval. Salka Valka is the child of a single mother growing up in a poor fishing village with little education or social support. She's tough and determined, though, and defies the town's norms as she educates herself, dresses in pants, enters the fishing industry, and organizes a union. Laxness tackles such tough social themes as abuse, stigma, sexism, and economic inequality, as Salka must consistently spurn the sexual advances of her unprincipled stepfather, deal with bullying from other villagers, and square her romance with an idealistic local man with her political engagement and desire for independence. Laxness (1902 1998) demonstrates a keen eye for details, with lyrical descriptions of the book's setting, where "human life is all in fish and from fish." Laxness also treats his characters with compassion; for example, while Salka's mother is weak and frequently neglects her daughter, the reader learns enough about her to understand her perspective. This is a remarkable achievement and will hopefully lead to a revival of interest in an oft-overlooked literary genius.