SWEDE HOLLOW by Ola Larsmo


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Several families emigrate from Sweden to Minnesota in the final years of the 19th century in Swedish journalist and novelist Larsmo's affecting, scrupulously detailed novel.

Anna and Gustaf Klar and their three children travel in steerage from England to New York and along the way make friends with reticent widowed Mrs. Lundgren, her strange son, David, and chatty Inga. After a short stint in New York, they all make their way to St. Paul, where they settle in a small immigrant community down in a ravine. Larsmo follows the members of the group and some of their new neighbors through the next couple of decades. As the novel goes on, the two Klar daughters, Elisabet and particularly Ellen, emerge as its central characters. Most of the novel consists of the stuff of daily life. Characters go to school, get temporary and then more permanent jobs, fall in love and marry, and sometimes die. The mysterious David gets a more dramatic storyline. Chapters called “The Tragic Story of Agnes Karin, David, and Horrible Hans”—rather than the place names Larsmo normally uses as chapter titles—detail a story that includes a murder and a stint in prison. The novel also veers off course to include the story of a lynching and edited transcripts of actual newspaper features about St. Paul generally and Swede Hollow specifically. Those looking for a conventional plot won't find it here: Larsmo writes believable scenes grounded in sensory experience, with relatively complicated characters, in some sort of chronological order, but also seems content to branch out into what are essentially self-contained short stories about characters peripheral to the main intertwined family saga.

A worthy addition to the shelf of books about the immigrant experience.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-5179-0451-7
Page count: 312pp
Publisher: Univ. of Minnesota
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2019


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