Utvandrarna : roman

by Vilhelm Moberg

Paper Book, 1954



Call number



Stockholm : Bonnier, 1954


Considered one of Sweden's greatest 20th-century writers, Vilhelm Moberg created Karl Oskar and Kristina Nilsson to portray the joys and tragedies of daily life for early Swedish pioneers in America. His consistently faithful depiction of these humble people's lives is a major strength of the Emigrant Novels. Moberg's extensive research in the papers of Swedish emigrants in archival collections, including the Minnesota Historical Society, enabled him to incorporate many details of pioneer life. First published between 1949 and 1959 in Swedish, these four books were considered a single work by Moberg, who intended that they be read as documentary novels. These editions contain introductions written by Roger McKnight, Gustavus Adolphus College, and restore Moberg's bibliography not included in earlier English editions. Book 1 introduces Karl Oskar and Kristina Nilsson, their three young children, and eleven others who make up a resolute party of Swedes fleeing the poverty, religious persecution, and social oppression of Sm�land in 1850.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member arubabookwoman
This is the first volume of Moberg's four volume epic work of fiction about Swedish emigration to America. This book centers around Karl Oscar and Christina, a young farmer and his wife who despite back-breaking work fall deeper into debt each year. A devastating famine seals their decision to
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leave Sweden for the New World. Others who reach similar decisions for reasons of their own include Karl's brother, an indentured farm laborer, and Christina's uncle and his family, who are persecuted for their religious beliefs.

The first half of the book chronicles the hardships of these and other characters as they all reach the agonizing decision to leave behind the familiar for an unknown new life. The second part is the story of the dangerous sea voyage to America, as 78 emigrants are crammed into the hold of a ship only 40 paces long, and 8 paces wide for a trip expected to last for months. For many of the emigrants it is only during this voyage that they fully realize the enormity of what they have done, and begin to accept that there will never be a return voyage back to Sweden.

The prose is calm and understated, yet the angst and difficulties the characters suffer while reaching their decisions are palpable and real. The suffering of the sea voyage is vividly portrayed--I cringed during the entire episode of the first storm at sea encountered on the voyage.

I was not ready to leave Karl Oscar and Christina, and immediately ordered the second volume of this series.
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LibraryThing member elyreader
This is a truly powerful novel depicting the epic journey of the Nilsson family from their arid and rocky Swedish farmland to what they hope will be a new life in North America. The story starts with a description of the land itself, hopelessly in conflict with the people who work it. The courage
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and indefatigability of the farmers is told with epic simplicity and a complex picture of the social and political conditions of the era is built up. There are touching stories of the generations of farmers who seek a life for themselves in Sweden before Karl Oskar Nilsson decides that such a life is impossible and he must emigrate. He eventually persuades his long-suffering wife Kristina (a genuinely heroic figure herself throughout the novel) and the preparations are made for the journey. The simple hopes of this family and their young children are profoundly engaging as is their journey first to the port and then across the ocean. The Nilssons are accompanied by many neighbours, some of dubious morals from the perspective of the conservative Kristina, others showing the nature of oppression and injustice in Europe at the time. The powerfully presented section of the novel presenting the ocean voyage is almost too painful to read at times: Moberg manages to provide an extensive and detailed catalogue of the miseries of nineteenth century emigrant experience whilst sustaining genuine suspense and pathos. This is a very impressive and curiously little known book.
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LibraryThing member thorold
Moberg was a prominent Swedish working-class writer, an autodidact who grew up on a small farm in Småland and made his name as a radical journalist, playwright and novelist who was ready to oppose all forms of authority (church, police, monarchy, Nazi Germany, ...) on behalf of ordinary people.
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The tetralogy The Emigrant Novels, of which this is the first book, tells the story of an extended family of farmers from Småland who emigrate to Minnesota in the 1850s. It was a major project which kept Moberg busy from 1945 to 1959, including some seven years of research in the US (he went back to Sweden for good in 1955, disgusted with McCarthyism and American religious conservatism). From the start, one of Moberg's main aims was to inform Swedish-Americans about how and why their ancestors came to the US, and he worked closely together with his American translator Gustav Lannestock, so that the English versions appeared soon after the Swedish originals.

In this first volume, we meet the main characters, Karl-Oskar and his wife Kristina, who are trying to make a living farming on a few acres of poor land that is barely adequate to feed their family and pay the interest on their inherited debts, even in a good year. Needless to say, there are no good years in this book. Karl-Oskar's younger brother is a labourer on a more prosperous farm, where he is forced to submit to sustained physical abuse - the servant law gives labourers essentially no rights against their masters. And Karl-Oskar's uncle is a radical non-conformist preacher repeatedly punished by the priest and the law for following his "heretical" beliefs. For all of them, together with a few other local outcasts (a single mother forced to earn a living as a prostitute, a married man unable to divorce his detested wife, ...), the idea of selling up and going to America seems very attractive.

But, of course, it isn't as easy as all that - physically or psychologically - to leave everything you know and set off over the edge of the map, even if there is rumoured to be a promised land there. Moberg tells us a lot about the hardships of the journey, first by cart over the border from Småland into Blekinge to get to the port of embarkation, then over the sea to New York on a small sailing ship, where we have to endure the usual quota of storms, doubts and diseases, and some attrition of the emigrant group.

Moberg is very strong on indignation and social realism, and paints a convincing picture of what the life of his characters must have been like (obviously not so very different from the conditions in which he himself grew up 50 years later). But I didn't find it very easy to engage sympathetically with the characters - they all seemed to be more case-studies than real individuals. And the narrative march of deprivation and disaster was a bit too inevitable - it isn't easy to keep up your attention when you are always 95% certain of what is about to go wrong. So this is a worthwhile read, rather than an entertaining one. I'm not sure if I still have the courage to follow Karl-Oskar and Kristina through the many accidents and disappointments that are obviously going to face them over the course of the next three volumes.
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