A Scandinavian community experiences trials and small triumphs in this novel set in post–World War II Minnesota.
Capable Tia Fiskum, unlike many other young people in Tolga Township, longs to one day take over her family’s farm. Her dreams are shattered, though, when the man she loves, Clyde Hanson, marries a town girl, Vera, who’s repulsed by farm life and dreams of running away to California. Meanwhile, Frieda Carlson, the young German wife of a war veteran, struggles with her English and the provincialism of her Norwegian neighbors. When Tia’s brother Norman returns from the army, everyone assumes that he’ll take over the farm that Tia covets. But his alcoholism and wanderlust instead drive Tia to shield Norman from scandal—particularly from Tillie, the eavesdropping town gossip. It was Norman who planted the shelterbelts, rows of trees that form a windbreak, around the town. Just as some of those trees have fallen while others have remained upright, some of the residents of Tolga Township fall to tragedy while others draw upon reserves of strength from unlikely sources—even the supernatural: when Nels Carlson claims a miraculous recovery from arthritis, the town’s good Lutherans fear that he’s become a fanatic. This latest novel by Simar (Blooming Prairie, 2012, etc.) is an engrossing portrayal of Norwegian farmers whose passive aggression tamps down their real passions. Each chapter is written from a different point of view, some in first person and some in third, and through them, Simar weaves a tale of longing, jealousy, rage, lies, and joy. Although the characters often back-stab one another, they also come together with genuine warmth when one of them is in trouble. Characters that could have been clichéd are instead made fresh by Simar’s revelations of their fears and hopes. The humor is appropriately subtle and sarcastic, and the descriptions (“Gunda Olson unfolded from the kitchen chair like a rusty pocket knife”) are delightful.
A moving, disturbing, and hilarious story of postwar rural America.