Giants in the Earth: A Saga of the Prairie

by O. E. Rölvaag
Reviewed date: 2010 Jun 21
Rating: 4
560 pages
Translated from the Norwegian by Lincoln Colcord & the Author
cover art

Giants in the Earth is a heroic tale of the pioneer days, when strong men and women made something out of nothing in the Dakota plains. Rölvaag shows us the lives of the Norwegian pioneers, from the day they first staked a claim, to when their settlement was large enough to support a minister and an organized congregation. Through it all, the great Plain looms a menace.

The hero of the story is Per Hansa, a visionary. He works harder and smarter and with more enthusiasm than any of his fellows. He cheats death over and over. His curse is his wife, Beret, whose homesickness drives her mad. The endless emptiness of the plain crushes Beret's spirit. She sees the plain as a malevolent force that will demand their lives and destroy their souls. It gets so bad that Per Hansa believes she will kills the children and herself. But he can do nothing but stand by her; he loves her unconditionally.

Beret's madness finally passes, but it's replaced by an equally fervent turn to religion. No longer homicidal, she still sees evil and sin at every turn. It comes as no surprise that when their neighbor Hans Olsa falls ill, Beret forces her husband Per Hansa to brave the blizzard to go get the minister, so that maybe Hans Olsa will have an opportunity to repent before he dies. Per Hansa knows it is suicide, but Beret is unrelenting: go, get the minister. Per Hansa loves his wife more than life itself, and understands that she will never forgive him if he does not go. He goes.

Per Hansa freezes to death in the blizzard.

I know Beret is mentally ill, but I still can't help feeling that she is a anchor who drags down and ultimately kills a great man.

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