Sunday, September 23, 2007

Giants in the Earth

The saga of Norwegian immigrants by O. E. Rolvaag entitled Giants in the Earth is truly a heroic epic of the settling of the upper plains. Rolvaag keeps his narrative focused on the family of Per Hansa with his long-suffering wife Beret and four children, And-Ongen, Store-Hans, Ole and Peder Victorious. The last of the children is born in their plains home while the others take part in the trek from Minnesota with which the novel begins. More than this family and their neighbors who form the new plains settlement, the earth itself is the main character of this story. From the opening moments the narrative is alive with the sounds and colors that surround the immigrant family and the impact of nature and the earth continue to influence their lives throughout the book.

Filled with the vicissitudes of a life on the frontier, the novel celebrates the life of the family and community as they overcome each of the challenges they face. Notable among the difficulties are the emotional problems of Beret as she comes to terms with her anxieties and fears in this rough community on the edge of civilization. Her story highlights the internal struggles of Per Hansa and his family and underlies the narrative of their interaction with the community at large. I have enjoyed this novel again and again ever since I read it as a teenager. Rereading it today I am somewhat reminded of The Good Earth by Pearl Buck which also depicts the influence of the earth on the life of a family. Giants in the Earth is a magnificent portrayal of pioneer human achievement.

Giants in the Earth by O. E. Rolvaag. Harper & Row, New York, 1927.

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