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Book Review: The Boat of Longing

The Boat of Longing
by Ole Edvart Rølvaag
1921

The Reading Circle recently read The Boat of Longing by O. E. Rolvaag, the prolific Norwegian-American author most famous for his saga Giants of the EarthThe Boat of Longing describes two phases in the life of young Nils Persa.  We first meet Nils as the lonely teenaged son of an elderly couple eking out a fishermen’s existence in far northern Norway in the early 20th century.  In Nordland life is basic, hard, and quite limited, but also tinged with beauty and mystery.  Nils makes the very difficult decision to leave his parents for America and is dropped abruptly into boomtown Minneapolis.  The promises of the new land are eventually revealed as shabby and not worthy of the idealistic protagonist.  The novel has a few drawbacks – Rolvaag’s style seems dated even for its publication date of 1921, and, once the novel moves to America, the story-line becomes a series of vignettes without a satisfying ending.  Rolvaag apparently intended to continue Nils' story in other books but was not able - precluded by other projects and then an untimely death.  But his vivid and sometimes poetic descriptions of Norway, Minneapolis, and the immigrant experience will be of interest to those willing to grapple with an unusual style.  The book is available in the SON library.

- Review by Marie Hansen