Asked by a Lutheran-pastor friend to recommend some fiction for summer reading, I immediately thought of Ole Rølvaag’s trilogy. I’d been thinking about revisiting these novels for some time, as questions surrounding the just and humane treatment of immigrants and immigration to the United States have swirled around in my head. How does immigration change our country? How does our country change immigrants? Should it?
Good fiction puts things aright.
People of a certain age (older than mine) tend to be familiar with the first in the series, Giants in the Earth, which regularly was assigned reading for America’s public high-school students. Deservedly so: It gives students a clear sense of the struggles of first-generation Norwegian-Lutheran immigrants in the Upper Midwest and Plains, and Rølvaag (himself such an immigrant) is a master prose-stylist—dark, exquisitely but not heavy-handedly descriptive, exploring the psyche of Per Hansa, his protagonist, without lapsing into psychobabble.
But generation gives way to generation, and the immigrant experience shifts from the brutal fight against the wind and the sod to the battle against tradition, the past, and identity itself. Peder Victorious continues the story along...