American estimations of Halldór Laxness, winner of the 1955 Nobel Prize for Literature, typically come down to impressions of Independent People. Fifteen years ago, I traversed Iceland on foot with little knowledge of the country but what I had gleaned from that book and a few other Laxness novels. A week into my hike, I came across a sheep farm and asked the farmer if I could camp in a pasture. He invited me inside for coffee and, seeing as how Laxnesss masterpiece Independent People is set on a sheep farm, I casually dropped that it was one of my favorite novels. The farmer replied, The one that came before it is even better. I wrote down the title, Salka Valka, and repeated it in my head for the next month as an incantation, a hocus pocus to make the valley floor solid or the next days water near. Unfortunately, I could never actually read the farmers favorite until now. This month Archipelago Books publishes this masterwork of social realism. Salka Valka initiates a debate on whether independence is not solely a virtue, but a failure of communitya theme central to Laxnesss subsequent work. The depth of feeling in the scene excerpted here, I think, brilliantly proves the sheep farmers point: Salka Valka is a major novel.