Saturday, July 7, 2012

07 July Peder Victorious, a novel

Peder Victorious, by O. E. Rolvaag
The classic novel of the Norwegian immigrant experience in America is Giants in the Earth, written in the 1920s by Rolvaag, a Norwegian author and teacher who spent many years at St. Olaf's College in Minnesota. This book was an enormous popular success in both  Norway and the U.S., so soon after publication he began planning the second volume in his planned trilogy.  He died before he had a chance to finish the third book.
Peder Victorious is the story of the youngest child of the Hansa family.  His middle name is the result of his appearance at birth. His father died when Peder was quite young, buried in a snowdrift during a ferocious blizzard as he went for help for a neighbor.  This heroic death inspires Peder to reach for great things himself, especially during his childhood.  Peder's mother struggles to maintain the family farm, with the help of Peder, his two older brothers and his sister, and in the process becomes one of the most successful farmers of the community.  But her success does not bring her any happiness; she regrets the loss of her husband and is fearful of the changes taking place in her family and in the community of Spring Creek as the Norwegians slowly more integrated into American society.
This is a gripping novel to read while traveling, especially when we work our way through the immense farms of the prairie.  Even today, almost a century after the book was written,  we pass isolated farmsteads, many derelict or in great need of repair in the same region as we see neat and trim brightly painted farmhouses with flourishing kitchen gardens.  Have the farmers given up and moved to town? Are they leasing their land to agribusiness companies? We hear accented speech, perhaps Norwegian or Ukrainian.  There's a lot of unknown history here, but Peder Victorious can give us the view of one family through this novel.


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