Author: Julie K. Rose
Genre: Fiction (Historical / 1900s / Norway / Rural Life / Emigration )
Publisher/Publication Date: First edition (1/2012)
Source: The author.
Did I finish?: Yes -- I hung on every word!
One-sentence summary: The story of two Norwegian sisters at a rural Norwegian farm in the early 1900s.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction
Do I like the cover?: I do -- the art is obviously inspired by the real-life setting of the novel
First line: Oleanna Tollefsdatter Myklebost was beset by ghosts: winter ice in her veins, chill and stiff even during the long summer days of the midnight sun.
Do... I love the extras offered on the author's website?: YES. There's a reader's guide, various Q&As, and scads of articles on 19th and early 20th century Norwegian life.
Did... I develop a hot crush on our heroine?: YES. Smart, tough, loving, interesting, moody, emotional, creative, serious, flirty...the reasons are numerous.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy -- this is a wonderfully quiet, beautiful, emotional novel of family, love, and a identity.
Why did I get this book?: Early 20th century Norwegian hist fic?! Like I'd say no!
Review: When this book ended, I contemplated flipping back to the start in order to begin again. I absolutely didn't want to leave the characters I had come to like so much.
Set in early 20th century Norway, this novel drew me in immediately with the heartbreaking story and quiet, intense characters. Oleanna and her sister Elizabeth are left on their isolated farm in southern Norway after their brother emigrates to the U.S. Already too familiar with loss -- tragic deaths, ended engagements, the absence of their loved ones -- Oleanna and Elizabeth face their time on their farm with pragmatic determination and couched restlessness.
There's elegant restraint in how Rose articulates love and loss, passion and madness, the rhythm of farm life, the quietude of rural Norway. In this book, I saw shades of both Sigrid Undset and Willa Cather. Rose's story of a strong woman at an isolated Norwegian farm reminded me immediately of Undset's Kristin Lavransdatter while the novel's theme of emigration, place, and identity felt like a companion to Cather's O Pioneers!.
This is a historical novel for my wife, who believes life is hard and should be unvarnished. Rose doesn't employe melodrama or theatrics and yet this is a story of deep loss, sadness, and heartbreak, the kind that just digs and twists (I'm getting teary again recalling the few particularly sad scenes!).
I'm normally a bit hesitant about novels that feature the author's ancestors or family members -- I find that sometimes the author doesn't have enough distance to make the characters real -- flawed or otherwise. In this case, Rose's Oleanna and Elizabeth are vibrant and complicated -- I just adored them and their journey.
Even if you aren't typically a historical fiction fan, consider this novel -- it's a wonderful snapshot of a place and a time set in tradition but uprooted by enormous transition. A story of ordinary women, unique and astounding in their own way, that will charm and captivate.
*** *** ***
I'm thrilled to be able to offer TWO copies of Oleanna to two lucky readers. To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US and international readers, ends 8/31. Be sure to check out my interview with the author for another chance to enter!