Book Review: Giants in the Earth, by O.E. Rolvaag

AbbyMac By AbbyMac, 11th Jul 2010 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Reviews>Books>Dramatic Fiction

Giants in the Earth (1927), the first in a trilogy, is an epic tale by Ole Edvart Rolvaag.

Giants in the Earth

The story, translated into English from Norwegian, depicts the struggle of Norwegian immigrants to the Dakota territory set in the timeframe of the 1870's Homesteading Act.

A handful of pioneers set out from the relative familiarity and safety of the eastern seaboard to found their own settlement of Norwegians in the vast plains of America where the land is free for the taking. Piling families and all worldly possessions into wagons, they set out toward the setting sun to find their paradise, their Eden, and in the mind of one settler, his kingdom!

The land they claim is beautifully situated and contains the potential to fulfill their dreams. But the initial shine wears off leaving a bittersweet tale of loss. The prairie is endowed with god-like characteristics, haunting their thoughts and dreams, capriciously offering and denying the settlers their livelihoods, and in some cases, their lives. She is a harsh master, beautiful to look at but deadly to take for granted.

Though similar in topic and setting to the classic series of Little House on the Prairie, we see here none of the romanticized descriptions of pioneering life. Giants is a startling tale of tragedy, deprivation, plague, starvation, insanity and death. Life is a constant fight to stay one step ahead of death, a fight frequently lost.

There is much failure, though disaster is tempered by the heart-warming interaction as neighbors and friends help one another through all circumstances, and tinged with just the edge of hope that the next generation can build on some of the successes given them by their pioneering fathers.

The strength of the book is in the development of the characters. The main couple, Per Hansa and Beret provide a perfect metaphor for the old and the new. Per Hansa is filled with the vitality and optimism to settle the new land. He imagines his kingdom, his castle and heroically conquering his foes. Beret, by contrast, constantly scans the threatening landscape and endless horizon; her eyes looking back toward the east from whence they came and where she imagines safety and security to be; her heart looking even farther back to Norway where they originally emigrated from; her mind collapsing under the strain. All of the characters are typically human, at times flawed by greed, ambition and envy, though balanced with love, selflessness and a work ethic unknown today.

The author, a Norwegian immigrant himself, draws on personal experiences, especially those of his wife's family, and eye-witness accounts of others to form this realistic narrative. This is a classic without a doubt and a seemingly honest portrayal of the mortal struggle to tame this land. Leave the warm fuzzies to Little House on the Prairie and prepare for an authentic journey through a vast and unforgiving landscape.


Giants In The Earth, Historical Fiction, Homesteading Act, Prairie, Rolvaag

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author avatar AbbyMac
I am a mother of two teenage girls, living on a farm where we raise award-winning Corriedale Sheep. I have homeschooled for 11 years and currently own a homeschool curriculum store. I enjoy writing about homeschooling, animals and mysteries of the ...(more)

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