I don’t usually read introductions until after I read a book, but I began to read the one for Giants in the Earth because I was curious about the book’s origins. I had always assumed it was an American book because it is about settlers in the Dakota territory. But in fact it was originally written in Norwegian and published in Norway in 1925 and 1926 and then translated to English in 1927, for Rölvaag came to the States in 1896 as a young man of 20.
The reason I mention the introduction by Lincoln Colcord, who translated the book with Rölvaag, is that it gives away a key plot point of the novel in the second paragraph. I couldn’t believe this, as it certainly affected how I read the novel, and it is especially egregious in that the event referred to does not happen until the very end of the book. If part of your enjoyment of a novel comes from not knowing what to expect, as mine does, do not read the introduction.
Per Hansa and his family have lost their way crossing the featureless prairies at the start of the novel. They had been travelling out with a group of Norwegians and Norwegian-Americans, but Per Hansa had difficulties with his wagon and the others went on ahead, even his best friend Hans Olsa. Then Per Hansa’s little group got lost in the fog for awhile, and now Per Hansa is afraid he might have missed the others and gone past them.
Per Hansa is an ebullient, sociable, hard-working man, and when he and his family finally arrive at the group of homesteads by Spring Creek, he is delighted with the land Hans Olsa has already marked out for him. He finds the prairie beautiful and is confident that he is going to make a wonderful life there for his family.
His wife Beret feels otherwise, and it is around her reaction that much of the novel centers. She is appalled by the prairie, this vast expanse that has not a single tree to hide behind. She soon begins to view the land as if it is some sort of godless and primitive monster, while Per Hansa sees only that it is rich and fertile.
The novel is set in the 1870’s and early 80’s and details the hardships of life so far away from any amenities. The men have to travel days for firewood in one direction and for supplies in another. Still, more immigrants keep arriving until there is a little settlement by the creek.
This is a fascinating novel about the Norwegian contribution to the settlement of the country. It is a realistic novel, not romanticized, with no big feats of heroism or villainy, just details of the life these people have chosen and its effects on them.