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Giants in the Earth Norwegian Verdens Grøde is a novel by Norwegian American author Ole Edvart Rølvaag First published in Norway as two books in 1924 and 1925 the author collaborated with Minnesotan Lincoln Colcord on the English translationThe novel follows a Norwegian family's struggles as they try to make a new life as pioneers in the Dakota territory Rølvaag is interested in psychology and the human cost of empire building at a time when other writers focused on the glamor and romance of the West The book reflects his personal experiences as a settler as well as the immigrant homesteader experience of his wife’s family Both the grim realities of pioneering and the gloomy fatalism of the Norse mind are captured in depictions of snow storms locusts poverty hunger loneliness homesickness the difficulty of fitting into a new culture and the estrangement of immigrant children who grow up in a new land It is a novel at once palpably European and distinctly American Giants in the Earth was turned into an opera by Douglas Moore and Arnold Sundgaard; it won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1951


10 thoughts on “Verdens Grøde

  1. says:

    I hated this book It felt like counting sand Or corn Or whatever the hell they were growing Oh and everyone is named Hansa Seriously this book moves so slow you could literally skip entire chapters maybe even 2 or three and NOTHING WOULD HAVE HAPPENED Maybe I'm being a bit harsh To be fair there is a lot of depth and meaning to the story and it does resonate with many Americans because for some the story of the prarie life is the story of their ancestery Most people don't consider American's Heartland much of a wilderness any but once it was wild and untamed And it could be at times brutal beautiful and even evil The story of the Norweigen family led by Per Hansa struggling to not only survive in this brave new world but to try and make a place for themselves is truly the story of the American spirit The wild west may get all the glamor but the true story of America's coming of age is told in stories like this one That sounds all well and good but damn did Rolvaag have to make it so dry? To put this in perspective I've read Paradise Lost just for fun And believe me that is not something to be taken lightly And that was easier to get through than thisHere's an example of what it's like to take just about any 200 pages in the book at random and read through themToday Big Hansa tended the corn with Little Hansa It is growing Soon we will have corn To eat We will eat the corn Then we will grow something else Ma Hansa and Boy Hansa put sod on the roof Then we looked at the grass and made deep philosophical conjectures about the meaning of life Then it rained The next day we tended the corn some Hansa and Hansa took some corn to Hansa and then went to see Hansa to Hansa Hansa and get some Hansa Hansa Hansa Hansa with his Hansa Hansa It was a good Hansa today Hansa Hansa Hansa Hansa Hansa Malkovich Malkovich Malkovich Hansa Hansa corn The next day Hansa went outside and sat on the porch and died Probably from too much corn We ate some cornRandomly change the weather the crops and maybe have them get buried in the snow for 6 weeks and you'll have written Giants in the Earth


  2. says:

    Beret Covered the Windows to Block Out Her FearDakota Territory 1873She looked out over the prairie and as far as she could see there were only tall grasses and a big blue sky with not a tree or bush in sight It felt lonely but most of all there was no place for her to hide Fear swelled up inside of herI stood looking at the land surrounding the sod house in Badlands National Park in South Dakota I couldn’t imagine living here in the middle of nowhere in this desert like land I wondered what life was like for the woman who had once lived here Some women may have liked the adventure but I had once read that some women went insane not just in the prairies but as settlers anywhere in what is now called America I don’t know if I would have gone insane or if I would have thought of it as an adventure but I know the feeling of having nowhere to hide because I was once in an area of America where my husband and I were traveling there were no trees and the sky was almost all you could see I felt exposed as I realized that there was nowhere to hide It felt eerie Later I learned that others have had this very same feeling Some couldn’t take it Perhaps if you had grown up in the wide open spaces being around trees could make you feel closed inI tried to find books on the subject of pioneer life in sod houses but I could never find one until now when I happened upon this bookuite by accident I am so glad that I had found it because it was perfect for me and the story telling was wonderful I can see why it is a classicThis story centered on the woman Beret And like some pioneer women she became insane for a while Some pioneer women never recovered and I uestion whether she ever had For her this prairie land was God forsaken and yet God had created the prairies for what reason she did not know or perhaps she had not even considered it Still it was implied It might as well have been hell as far as she was concerned I think it was created for the buffalo and for the Indians who roamed this land They loved itI remember seeing the prairie at a National Wildlife Reserve It was so beautiful with all the wildflowers and grasses When I was a child we had a field just like it I loved it and used to sit and read comicbooks in the summertimeThe first thing that the settlers found when they arrived at their land was a burial mound on a small hill They believed it to be that of an Indian because they also found arrowheads and a large stone with a groove around the middle of it A sledge hammer I thought Then not far way there was a river with trees Ducks were plentiful there if only they had a shotgunNext a group of Indians showed up and decided to camp on their land I could uestion whose land it really was The men of the four families that had moved there together went over to meet them and this without bringing their guns Stories like this abound I this book and I loved every one of themThey began building their sod houses and I thought that this type of underground houses must be cool in the summer’s heat It seemed better than those built above ground for maybe they were tornado proof but they had their own drawbacks In another book that I had read snakes and insects tried to make their homes in these sod houses but the book was just clippings ofrom pioneer women’s stories It did not satisfy me While I love snakes and insects no way would I wish to deal with poisonous snakes or centipedes that crawled on and in their walls between the wallpaper Later on Beret’s husband went to town and found that one of the settlers a widower had used lime to paint on the walls of her sod house to make them white He thought that it was uite pretty and thought of his wifeThe sod house in the Badlands that I had seen had newspapers for wallpaper At least you could read the walls over and over again So Beret’s husband bought some lime for his wife in order cheer her up for by now she was slowly losing her mind and he thought that little gifts like this would cheer her up I thought that it may have helped if he had taken her to town to shop on a Saturday and to spend the night and take her to church in the morning But his trips were far and few between But maybe she would have run away but those are my thoughts not his It appeared to me that none of the men took their wives to town They stayed home with their children and only the older boys got to go And to think that we were always taught that pioneer women were brave Not always so Beret put clothing over the windows in the sod house to keep out the fear That was her way of coping of iding I don’t think it helped and in her case going into town once in a while would not help either When my husband and I lived in the country I didn’t want curtains; I wanted to see the outdoors but I had a few just the same We were surrounded only by oat fields and cattle and we only had three large trees that grew up on a hill away from the house We also had one large tree at the side of the house to block the afternoon sunIt was pleasant there in spite of the rattlesnakes that came into our yard I also could run into town whenever I wished I also felt that those men who didn’t take their wives into town didn’t consider their needs but it was too dangerous at times due to the weather Perhaps it it was just too hard on them Yet they had traveled this far And when they saw that their wives were insaneor going insane the men stayed on the land and hoped for the best Some did leave with their wives others sent them home and some sent them to insane asylums where they had had to deal with the horrors of that place Beret’s husband just stayed and hoped for the best and dealing with here made him a little crazy as well Pioneers kept showing up and the land became dotted with sod houses that looked like ant hills on the prairie Sort of like how Florida looks like today with its fire ant mounts in its panhandle where the tall prairie grasses can’t grow and the trees are all scrub brushes with a few palms I thought it interesting how this Norwegian settlement wished to only have other Norwegians in their small community I felt some of this attitude had to do with familiarity the need to see their fellow countrymen to be with others who spoke their own language and who could talk with them about the old country Was it racism? I don’t know But I thought how much better it would have been to have had different cultures so you could learn English together that is if there were any English speaking settlers among them It would also have been fun to learn their culture and I would say their foods but perhaps it was difficult to get food supplies like they in their homeland Still I understand the need for familiarity The women kept having babies and the men kept planting wheat and oat crops and the locusts and grasshoppers kept coming year after year to eat those crops and their clothing Then the snows came and took some of their lives as well as the lives of their livestock and their God was nowhere to be found But in time they had a school and a church probably in someone’s house Later on some of the settlers built wooden houses above ground and the tornadoes came and blew some of them away Maybe sod houses are best in tornado country I wish that we had one or at least a tornado shelter but due to the rocky land few have them I have seen photos of modern houses that are built underground and they are beautiful And We get insects in our old house and now a raccoon keeps comoing through our cat door to look for food She has two babies and so I suppose she is hungry and the food we leave outside is not enough We are now putting the cat food away at night and putting the stored cat food in a tin that she can’t open we hopeWe also have tall trees here in East Oklahoma so I have a place to hide I don’t have to deal with the same feelings as Beret had I wouldn’t wish to either Best of all I can walk over to the field next door and see my own patch of wildflowers and prairie grasses but I can’t sit in it and read a book because of all the chiggers


  3. says:

    Thought I would re read this book about Norwegian pioneers in South Dakota in anticipation of the arrival of our exchange student from NorwayI love this book It answers many of the adult uestions I had when re reading Little House on the Prairie with my kids How did the mother bear the intense isolation? What was the psychological impact of that endless horizon? Did bugs crawl out of the sod house walls? However like the Little House books Giants is silent on the subject of frontier outhousesThis could be subtitled “Manic Depressive on the Prairie” The hero Per Hansa provides the manic side relentlessly optimistic boundlessly energetic canny outgoing His wife Beret is depressed forlorn without her birth family frightened by the limitlessness of the landscape haunted by a sin The children are sunny and untroubled All the security they know or want – their parents – is right thereReligious fervor plays a major role in the book For Beret it is salvation; for Per Hansa doom I wonder if the religious theme was considered at all controversial when this was originally published I am sympathetic to reviewers here who complain that this was 400 pages of milking cows and feeding chickens though in fact the chickens don’t appear until about page 200 And there are an awful lot of characters with some variant of the name Hans I will have to ask our exchange student what is up with the troll phobia too


  4. says:

    Reread Published in English in 1927 this is my favorite novel about the lives of the pioneers who struggled to survive life on the frontier I have read it at least four times but had never reviewed it because I knew it wouldn't be easy Finally I have and I was right; it wasn't easy There is so much that I wanted to say about the book but I decided to lay out the conflict between Beret and Per Hansa and leave it to the reader to learn how it all turns out “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 bear children to them the same became mighty men which were of old men of renown” – Genesis vi4“The frontier is hard on women and cattle” – Theodore Roosevelt Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail In his story of four Norwegian families who migrated to southeastern Dakota Territory in the 1870’s OE Rolvaag was not interested in how the American West was conuered as a result of manifest destiny His interest lay in the role that psychology played in the lives of settlers living in such a remote and some would say desolate grasslands region In other words his main concern was the human cost of the conuest The reactions of his two main protagonists to settling down in an area so unlike their native Norway could not have been differentPer Hansa the husband was an intelligent man blessed with a strong will who was imbued with an attitude of buoyant optimism and a burning ambition He who had been a fisherman in Norway was a natural pioneer He could not believe that he could be so fortunate as to be able to homestead 160 acres of rich fertile land and that after paying a small filing fee and “proving up” his claim the farm would be his And since there were no other settlers nearby other than the three families who had made the migration with him Per Hansa dreamed of a future in which he would be able to add to his acreageHe felt as if his strength were inexhaustible And so he commenced his labours with a fourteen hour day; but soon as the plans grew clearer he began to realize how little could be accomplished in that short span of time with so much work always ahead of him; he accordingly lengthened his day to sixteen hours and threw in another hour for good measure; at last he found himself wondering if a man couldn’t get along with only five hours of rest in this fine summer weatherBeret the wife a person of a much sensitive and pious nature was fearful for what she felt the future held for her family She inwardly balked at the idea of raising her two sons and her daughter in such an uncivilized environment Not only that she was expecting a fourth child She longed for her homeland and the family she had left behind and she found it extremely difficult to repress the negative grim thoughts that plagued her daily existenceFrom the outset she had misgivings about their future home She had a hard time imagining why anyone would be willing to settle in such a remote uncivilized country one so unlike her homeland that it didn’t even have trees and especially since their little isolated company was the first to settle there If it was such a great place to live why hadn’t others settled there before them?Was this the place? Here Could it be possible? She stole a glance at the others then turned to look closely at the group standing around her; and suddenly it struck her that here something was about to go wrong For several days she had sensed this same feeling; she could not seem to tear herself loose from the grip of it Surely surely she mustn’t give way to her tears now in the midst of all this joy Could no living thing exist out here in the empty desolate endless wastes of green and blue? How could existence go on she thought desperately? If life is to thrive and endure it must at least have something to hide behindPer Hansa and Beret come to epitomize a pattern played out year after year in the lives of pioneers struggling to improve their lot in life on the frontier The pattern could be summarized as man’s endurance and woman’s suffering In such an environment a man could break; and a woman could go mad Sometimes both tragedies occurred in the same family Pioneer life was hard on all concerned but Theodore Roosevelt was right in believing that it was especially hard on women In 1929 the noted historian Samuel Eliot Morrison wrote to Rolvaag“Beret is a great figure because she typified the woman emigrant of every race”The history of the conuest of the North American continent is a great epic that has been celebrated in books and on the movie screen but for many it was also a great tragedy It is the tragedy that held the most interest for Rolvaag


  5. says:

    Giants In The Earth is the first of a trilogy by O ERolvaag that deals with immigrant and pioneer life As usual in this type of story we see the characters dealing with a long trek the insecurities arising from being in a new land with an unknown language and not much than their dreams to live on from day to day But Rolvaag has also captured the isolation that comes from living many miles away from 'civilization' andthe loneliness of life itself whether it is lived in a city or in the wildernessPer Hansa and his family move from Norway to the Dakota Territory to start a new life Beret Per's wife immediately feels the threatening Otherness of the prairie and does not see the beauty of the grasslands so much as the fact there is nothing to hide behind in all that open space around her But she does not say anything to Per for she thinks she must go where he goes and accept everything These two feelings become the main force in Beret's life affecting everyone around her and pulling her into a frightening darkness that is never completely conueredPer himself does not register the changes in Beret; he is too busy dreaming of More land crops animals houses He must be the first of the little community to do anything first to get his wheat planted first to limewash the inner walls of his house first to do anything and to do it in a bigger and better way than any of his neighbors could This is Per's blind approach to life and it keeps him from connecting completely not only with his neighbors but with his own family I was totally transported while reading I felt the snow could imagine the horror of the locust swarms I could see the beauty of the prairie which Beret shied away from But I do still wonder about one comment about birds and insects in the area Our family settles in at their chosen plot of land and there is no noise no birdsong no insect noises nothing but mosuitoes This prompts a footnote by the author saying that the early pioneers never heard birds or insects during their first year on the Plains And later in the book he talks of the meadowlarks that are singing and he repeats the statement that in the first year there were no birds I know the author talked to many old time settlers including his father in law but still How could a rich habitat like the Great Plains not have bird life until after the farmers came? That simply does not make sense to me and I refuse to believe itIn the opening pages Rolvaag describes the sounds of the ox carts moving through the countryside and I felt as if I were walking alongside the cart taking my first steps into a new world Tish ah said the grassTish ah tish ahNever 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 beforeTish ahtish ah it cried and rose up in surprise to look at this rough hard thing that had crushed it to the ground so rudely and then moved onFor me this passage reveals another theme of the book Man against Nature Who will win in the end?


  6. says:

    A giant of a pioneer novel Isolation loneliness and death in the stark midwest statesI have never forgotten the ending first read when 15 of humble pioneer 1870s whose wife sends him into a blizzard because you see the horrid wife became a red state religious crackpotand thus out of religious evil America developswith too many deaths


  7. says:

    There's lots of books about settlers of the American Prairie out there but Rolvaag does one thing remarkably well Read this about 15 years ago but still clearly remember Rolvaag's portrayal of the grueling solitude of early settlers of the northern plain Especially of the wife often left with her children while her husband went for supplies Not unlike a sailor's wife but without the near companionship of other women Rough living uarters coping with illness scarcity of food etc Also remember these were stoic Norwegians The men bear their own hardships and are constantly physically challenged Having been caught in blizzards and whiteouts in my lifetime it was evident that Rolvaag wrote them only as one who has been through them could Frightening then still Some things about nature do not change If you're in the mood for a longish classic I highly recommended this for long winter nights by the fire


  8. says:

    It took me years to read Giants in the Earth; the novel felt over familiar since I grew up across the street from Ole Rolvaag's house in Northfield Minnesota near the campus of St Olaf College where he taught and where a library bears his name His descendents still lived in the house and my parents were friends with his great great granddaughter and her family I spent many hours there in the 1970s and the fabled shadow of Giants of the Earth hung heavily over the residence in the form of original posters and a reverent display of the first editions Rolvaag's own library and office accessible through a pair of French doors remained buried in a deluge of papers and books; it had likely been untouched since his death in 1931 and had the unmistakable pharaonic gloom of a shrine It was forbidden territory but we still entered it often That dusty room with its framed uotation from Dante fencing swords and antiue volumes suggested something of “Giants’” mythic immensity When I finally returned to the novel a cursory glance at Rolvaag’s title biblical epigraph and chapter titles alone confirmed its vast heroic ambition There’s no uestion that Rolvaag plans to align the story of Norwegian pioneer Per Hansa and his family with heroic archetypes and eternal themesBut the novel’s prose style and execution offer something nuanced if still ambitious In an opening scene overflowing with bold sensory impressions Hansa travels with his wife Beret and their children through an ocean of prairie grass as Rolvaag’s prose churns with formidable energy punctuated by ellipses exclamation marks and vigorous fragments of observation The techniue is remarkably similar to the techniue of Louis Ferdinand Céline’s 1932 “Journey to the End of Night” where disconnected language and exclamations evoke a world exploded by the author’s solipsistic energies Rolvaag’s world is similarly menacing and uncontainable but his protagonists subsist on the blind faith that it can be reordered and subjugatedDouglas Moore composed a Pulitzer prize winning opera based on Rolvaag’s novel in 1951 and I’ve been unable to find a recording In the absence of Moore’s music I choose to imagine the work as a natural expression of Giants’ truly operatic material larger than life bursting with epic emotion in the best sense of the ideal as tragic and bravely expressive as Rolvaag’s extraordinary prose


  9. says:

    The month of July wore on The small patches of fields in the Spring Creek settlement were slowly ripening and made a brave showing Never had one seen finer fields The grain had started to head out long ago; the kernels were already formed tiny bodies wrapped in the most delicate green silk With every day that passed the wheat filled out and ; the heads grew heavy and full of milk; as soon as the breeze died down in the afternoon they would tilt toward the setting sun and slowly drop off to sleep only to dream of the marvellous life that was now stirring within themI have read numerous novels of the European settling of the West Many of them are very good But none could better this one in my view Rolvaag in addition to capturing the adventure the hard work the natural disasters and the ultimate success of the settlers also vividly portrays the immigrant experience the sense of camaraderie and neighborliness and the exhausting struggle of a determined and resilient people Most rewarding to this reader he inhabits the mind of a woman who fights both depression and insanity when faced with the desolation of the endless plains and that of a despairing preacher who feels impotent in the face of the lives of the people to whom he ministersMy copy of this book a first edition touts it as one of the few books on American pioneer life which will endure I know it has endured among readers in the Dakotas but it deserves to be read much widely


  10. says:

    I came across this book a few years back when we visited Washington DC a shout out to Second Story Books in Dupont Circle I picked it out because I had never heard of it Then I find out while I'm reading this that at least two people I know on Goodreads had this book assigned to them in high school as mandatory readingThis doesn't even make sense to meThis book written by Norwegian American author OE Rølvaag was published in 1927 though it tells the story of a Norwegian immigrant family's trials and tribulations starting in 1873 There were a crap ton of trials and tribulations too and eating porridge day and night was only one of them Seriously there's a lot of porridge eating here I'm not saying this isn't accurate to the time and circumstances; I'm just saying it was a surprise at how freuently Rølvaag felt the need to share this information with us I eat oatmeal almost every day for breakfast but I don't feel compelled to tell you about each occasionBut there are other much important horrible things this family endures The most impressively told parts in my opinion featured the snowstorms blizzards and all things snow related This is where Rølvaag really excelled as a writer creating the visual of being trapped in a small space with ones family sometimes not being able to open the door due to the amount of snow piled against it utilizing their children to help plow a path because that's fun for kids dontcha know etcUnfortunately I had a hard time connecting with any of the characters It didn't help that Rølvaag had a dry style of writing and that he used a lot of ellipses throughout his paragraphs The ellipses are a tricky form of punctuation marks because if it's done well it works and if it's notSee what I did there?My point is that if you overuse ellipses whatever your point might have been it's lost because I for one can't tell if you're trailing off because you're uncertain what else you want to say or if you want the reader to guess what you're trying to say or the author removed sections of the text for whatever reason I mean there are so many reasons but the end result is that over utilization of ellipses looks like sloppy writing andor that the author is not very confident in his own story God if a fellow had thirteen barrels of this stuff of yours GurinaYou don't happen to have another little drop in the pan?She gave him a second bowlful which he emptied as greedily as the firstAll at once something occurred to him He turned to ask a uestionHad any of them seen him drive past them in the storm?Drive past themYou're talking wild Per Hansa said Tonseten with an anxious lookp316 I mean that's an excessive use of ellipses don't you agree? And the entire text is like that so if the book is 531 pages in paperback and there are at least seven or instances of this on each page then that means there's a gatrillion ellipses used in this novel A GATRILLION I sayWhat I did especially appreciate about this book is the extensive footnotes Not extensive in a uantitative sense but in a ualitative There's a lot of fantastic information in the footnotes of this novel helpful in the sense of what actual immigrant pioneers experienced this book was partly based on Rølvaag's own experiences as a child so he would definitely know what it was like to live in the Dakota Territory in the late 19th century Scandinavian mythology artifacts that were used and details about Norwegian names and how they came about I mean really interesting mostly useless except to nerds like myself information It's because of the footnotes that I bumped this up to a 3 star rating Otherwise I feel the text by itself would be a solid 2 star for the reasons stated above Okay primarily the ellipses There's just way too many of themI understand there are two seuels Peder Victorious A Tale of the Pioneers Twenty Years Later and Their Fathers' God I am fairly certain I own one if not both of them I didn't dislike this one enough to sell back the others without reading them and I also have a sick curiosity to know if Rølvaag ever learns about other forms of punctuation