Reading my way through Popsugar’s 2016 Book Challenge.
Category: A Book Translated to English
Giants in the Earth –O.E. Rolvaag (531)
Favorite Line: “Many and incredible are the tales the grandfathers tell from those days when the wilderness was yet untamed, and when they, unwittingly, founded the Kingdom.”
“There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.” Genesis v:4
Think Little House on the Prairie double the drama, heartache, prairie storms, and snow.
This novel, written originally in Norwegian, follows the story of an immigrant family looking to start a Norwegian settlement west of the Mississippi River.
Reading this book continually made me wonder why anyone in their right mind would ever endure the hardships of the Midwest weather when they could have stayed in the city and been perfectly happy. Now, I’m from the Midwest, I’ve lived here since I was eight and I love it. However, I have a house, a car, winter clothes, a grocery store 5 minutes away, and access to modern medicine. These things make living in the Midwest not only possible, but also enjoyable. Yet, even with these things I still complain about the long, windy, snowdrift covered winters or the ridiculous heat and humidity in the summer. I could never imagine going through these conditions in a drafty house with no hot water, or no air conditioning during the 100 degree summer days.
Per Hansa, our protagonist is a strong man who has his sights set on the west. He, along with the other Norwegian settlers traveling with him, seek out a plot of land in the Dakota territories in hopes of starting their own community. They begin there is no clear end in sight, only hope for a better future.
“But it had been as if a resistless flood had torn them loose from their foundations and was carrying them helplessly along on it’s current—flinging them here and there, hurling them madly onward, with no known destination ahead.”
As in most stories of the early settlers, there are many challenges and troubles that arise for the family of Per Hansa as they travel and settle, but the harshest conflicts are not from the plagues of locusts, the blizzards, or the prairie fires but from the conflicting attitudes of husband and wife.
Per Hansa is self-motivated man, who will stop at nothing to achieve the goals he has set for himself. These qualities are not intrinsically bad, in fact they are usually very good qualities to have, however the problem for Per Hansa is that he is a dreamer without a ceiling. Everything and anything is possible for him, and he refuses to stop until he has gained everything and anything.
“The caravan headed for the sky; it steered straight onward. Now, at last, Per Hansa had time to look about him and rejoice in what he saw… All he saw was beautiful”
Beret, Per Hansa’s wife, goes along with her husband, rarely coming between him and his dream, and hating every moment of it. Multiple times she questions why they continue westward when civilization lays to the east. She despairs time and time again in the lonely prairie, each time sinking lower into misery.
“It seemed plain to her now that human life could not endure in this country.”
This struggle between husband and wife can be found as the source of the majority of the problems, aside from natural disasters, that arise for this family, and ultimately for their community. This marriage, through their faults and triumphs, acts as living proof how influential a strong marriage can be, and how shattering a malfunctioning one can be to everyone around them.
“When the quarrel had finally worn itself out they had found themselves at opposite ends of the earth, though lying side by side in the same bed.”
Giants in the Earth was not exactly an easy book to get through, but not because of the way it is written, for it is truly a beautifully written novel, but because it is full of tragedy. It is one of those “so sad but I can’t stop reading” books. Amidst all the sorrow, however, there is beautiful joy: the joy of finding their plot of land, the joy of the harvest, the joy of friendship, the joy of freedom, the joy of children, both old and new, and the joy of love.
Rolvaag writes in such a poetic way that the words flow from the page and before you know it you have read several chapters without stopping. While this book was translated from its original Norwegian, Rolvaag translated it himself, along with Lincoln Colcord, so the purity of the words remains intact.
I went through every emotion possible while reading this book. The characters not only came alive for me, but they also became friends of mine, making their success my success and their burdens my burdens. My favorite character changed with each chapter, which is a sign to me of perfect story telling, as that is closer to reality than having one character bear all the good qualities, while the others are merely supporting roles.
First published in 1925 this classic novel brings forth universal issues and timeless themes. The period of the settlers was a harsh time in America’s history, but a vital one. Giants in the Earth helps bring our history to life, and shows how far people will go and how hard they will work to fulfill the American dream
“Tish-ah!” said the grass. “Tish-ah, tish-ah!” Never had it said anything else–never would it say anything else. It bent resiliently under the trampling feet; it did not break, but it complained aloud every time–for nothing like this had ever happened to it before.”
O.E. Rolvaag immigrated to America from Norway in 1896. He worked as a farmhand in South Dakota until he was able to afford school. He graduated from St. Olaf College in Minnesota in 1905 and earned is Masters degree in 1910. He became head of the Norwegian department at St. Olaf College and became secretary and archivist of the Norwegian-American Historical Association. He died in 1931.