Vilhelm Moberg and Ole E. Rølvaag

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Winning Nomination

Vilhelm Moberg and Ole E. Rolvaag are two Scandinavian writers who did enormous research on Minnesota and have popularized the emigrant stories internationally through their novels.
~Nina Clark, Minneapolis, MN

Runner-up Nominations

Vilhelm Moberg and The Emigrants and A New Land One topic/thing that I think would be worth considering are the novels written by Vilhelm Moberg based upon the immigration of Swedes to Minnesota. These novels recently reprinted by MHS Press, e.g. The Emigrants, The New Land, etc., were brilliantly brought to the screen in two films by Jan Troell and starring Liv Ullmann and Max von Sydow. Moberg himself was greatly influenced by the detailed diaries of Swedish immigrant Andrew Peterson, who came to the Scandia area. I think that this combination of history, literature and film brought about a resurgence of interest both here and in Sweden at least in the 19th- and early 20th-century immigration. It may well have had as great an impact as Alex Haley's Roots in encouraging people to search out their roots and extended relatives.

Given the lasting impact of Scandinavian immigration upon this state, I could see these as something important for your consideration.
~Bruce Karstadt



Moberg (1898-1973)

Rølvaag (1876-1931)

Telling it like it was

They were both born into humble circumstances in Scandinavian countries. One immigrated to America, where he became a scholar committed to preserving his people's culture. The other stayed home, where he became one of his country's best-known writers and social critics. Together, they gave the world an unvarnished view of what it meant to pull up stakes in one's homeland and rebuild a life in the Midwest in the late nineteenth century.

Ole Rølvaag was twenty years old when he came to the United States from his home in Norway, where he had worked as a fisherman. He settled in South Dakota, where he studied at Augustana Academy (later College). He later completed a bachelor's degree and a master's degree at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, and then served there as a professor of Norwegian language and literature from 1906 to 1931. He began writing fiction, short stories, and poems during his early teaching years; his works are severe, dramatic, and unsparing in their accounts of the hardships of immigrant life. His best-known novel is Giants in the Earth, the first in a trilogy about a Norwegian family's struggles in the Dakotas. The book ends with a disappointing, oft-cited image of its protagonist's sad end:

"On the west side of the stack sat a man, with his back to the mouldering hay. This was in the middle of a warm day in May, yet the man had two pairs of skis along with him; one pair lay beside him on the ground, the other was tied to his back. He had a heavy stocking cap pulled well down over his forehead, and large mittens on his hands; in each hand he clutched a staff....To the boys, it looked as though the man were sitting there resting while he waited for better skiing....
"...His face was ashen and drawn. His eyes were set toward the west."

Vilhelm Moberg was born in Småland, Sweden. He worked a number of jobs, from farming to glassblowing to editing a newspaper, until he became a recognized author. Politically active throughout his life, he supported socialism and opposed Sweden's trade with Germany during World War II. His most famous work is a series of four novels--The Emigrants, Unto a Good Land, The Settlers, and Last Letter Home, all published in Sweden between 1949 and 1959, chronicling one Swedish family's migration to Minnesota in the mid- to late nineteenth century--a story that mirrored some of the author's own relatives' lives. Two of the novels in this series--The Emigrants and Unto a Good Land--were made into critically acclaimed films by Swedish director Jan Troell in 1971 and 1972, with Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann in starring roles.

"They stood crowded together on deck like a herd of cattle," writes Moberg in the final pages of The Emigrants, "shackled in the narrow stalls of the byre during a whole long winter, and at last stretching their necks and turning toward the door when it began to smell of spring and fresh grass and meadows....The life at sea had undermined their bodies and souls. The land-frenzy was bringing them new strength. They had again seen the green earth. As seekers of new homes they had come sailing from the earth--now they were back on the earth, and felt life returning."

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