Opening line: ‘One January day, thirty years ago, the little town of Hanover, anchored on a windy Nebraska tableland, was trying not to be blown away.’
O Pioneers! is a novel that follows the Bergsons, a family of Swedish immigrants, and their community at the turn of the 20th century. Alexandra Bergson, the eldest of four, inherits her father’s estate when he passes away. Despite drought, despite year after year of bad harvests, Alexandra invests in the land that so many pioneers abandon. It takes a lifetime, but she pulls her family into prosperity, realising her father’s dream that the youngest son, Emil, might go to college and have a life that isn’t tied to the land. Of course, Emil has his own dreams, and Alexandra learns to have dreams of her own.
Sarah recommended this book to me last week after I posted about My Daniel. I was in the mood to read My Daniel, but since I don’t have my copy of it here in Scotland, I checked out O Pioneers! from the library to read instead. I had only read Willa Cather’s short fiction in an American Literature survey course years ago during my undergraduate. The novel was a quick, lyrical read. I enjoyed the descriptions of the prairie and of prairie-life: the fairs held in the basement of the French church, the Swedish mother attempting to recreate the Old World in her garden, the vastness and coldness and awe-inspiring quality of the prairie, capable of rendering one to insignificance as well as inspiring hope. Read this novel for a glimpse into the life of the pioneers who dared settle in the West, which was, surprising, not so long ago in the order of things.