A Swedish boy makes good in the New World in this rags-to-riches story.
Peter Olaf Hokanson, a 17-year-old Swede, is obsessed with America and the possibilities presented by the faraway country. Unwilling to labor in his father’s woodworking shop for the rest of his life, our hero leaves his family and girlfriend in order to make a new life in the United States. After a long journey alone across the Atlantic and a train trip from New York, Peter arrives in Minnesota in 1895, where he finds an untamed, frozen landscape covered in forests. The lumber industry is booming and the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul are quickly developing. With the help of his already established cousin, Sven, and a new friend, Gus, Peter quickly finds his first job as a lumberjack, which kicks off his astonishing ten year evolution from poor immigrant laborer to lumber company executive to wealthy and prestigious factory owner. Yet this path toward success does not come easily—each chapter in the novel includes a particular challenge that Peter must overcome, whether it’s almost freezing to death after fighting off a pack of wolves on Christmas day, dealing with the tragic death of a loved one, overcoming lost love, or facing an assault with a deadly weapon charge. This steady stream of obstacles teaches Peter that, in the tradition of Horatio Alger, hard work, determination and loyalty lead to wealth and happiness. For the reader, these tests keep the pages flowing and the story moving forward at a good pace. Additionally, the novel is peppered with Peter’s love affairs with very different women—a Swedish sweetheart, a half-Indian healer and his boss’ daughters—that function to keep his story interesting. Grabmeier clearly has done his homework in terms of the lumber industry’s history in Minnesota and its effect on the state’s growth, and he should be applauded for weaving insightful historical facts into the book without drowning the narrative in them. While Peter’s trial skirts bombast, overall the book offers a nice twist on the typical immigrant-makes-good-in America storyline.
A strong, debut historical novel.