Saturday, February 19, 2011

Giants in the Earth

by O. E. Rolvaag

Thumbs up.

This classic tale of Norwegian immigration to Dakota Territory, tells the story of the Spring Creek Settlement.  Per and Beret Hansa, Hans and Sorrina Olsa, Syvert and Kjersti Tonseten, and the two Solum brothers face together, the perils of westward expansion.  Among the hardships they must bear are hunger, backbreaking labor, difficulties in childbirth, fear of the native people, grasshoppers, and summer and winter storms.  But worse by far for some, is the fear and loneliness of this new country.  The openness and stillness are so pervasive they are hard to ignore.  And for some settlers, including Per Hansa's Beret, they sometimes lead to insanity.

Rolvaag, himself a Norwegian immigrant as a young man, tells all too realistically the sights and sounds of the prairie and the various emotions of the settlers.  We laugh and cry with them.  We appreciate the noble sacrifices they made in order to turn what is described as a desolate and forbidding landscape into the communities and farms that thrive in those prairie lands today. 

We hear with Per Hansa and Beret the, "Squeak, squeak," of the wagon wheels and the, "Tish-ah, tish-ah," of the grasses opening before and closing behind the wagon.

We share with Beret the fear of the open spaces and the almost supernatural forces that inhabit them. We can feel the great silence along with those first settlers.

We experience the manic energy of Per Hansa to get more and more ground broken and keep ahead of his neighbors.  And we rejoice over each acre of sod he breaks and the large sod house and stable he provides his family.

We feel Syvert and Kjersti's sadness, and even bitterness, when they are not able to have children.  We breath a sigh of relief with Per Hansa, when his wife and child make it through a frighteningly difficult birth.

We rejoice Per Hansa's faithful friends, Hans Olsa and Sorrina, when their friend's wife returns to her senses.  We can appreciate the import of their steadfastness to Per Hansa and his family.

But most of all, we feel gratitude and awe toward our forebears for the hardships they surmounted that we might have the farms and towns that make the great plains the great communities they are today.  These people were truly giants in the earth.

1 comment:

  1. I have wanted to read this one for a while now....I will have to move it up on my TBR list! (It is a LONG list! :)