One of our recommended books for 2019 is Swede Hollow by Ola Larsmo

SWEDE HOLLOW


When the Klar family leaves Sweden for New York in 1897, they take with them a terrible secret and a longing for a new life. Their dream of starting over is nearly crushed at the outset, until an unexpected gift allows them to make one more desperate move, this time to the Midwest and a place called Swede Hollow.

Their new home is a cluster of shacks on the edge of St. Paul, Minnesota inhabited by other immigrants. The men hire on as day laborers or work at the nearby brewery, and the women clean houses or work in factories.

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When the Klar family leaves Sweden for New York in 1897, they take with them a terrible secret and a longing for a new life. Their dream of starting over is nearly crushed at the outset, until an unexpected gift allows them to make one more desperate move, this time to the Midwest and a place called Swede Hollow.

Their new home is a cluster of shacks on the edge of St. Paul, Minnesota inhabited by other immigrants. The men hire on as day laborers or work at the nearby brewery, and the women clean houses or work in factories. Outsiders malign Swede Hollow as unsanitary and dangerous, but the Klar family and their neighbors persevere in this neglected corner of the city—and consider it home.

Extensively researched and beautifully written, Ola Larsmo’s award-winning novel vividly portrays a family and a community determined to survive. There are hardships and indignities, but also acts of kindness and moments of joy. This haunting story of a real place echoes the larger challenges of immigration in the twentieth century and today.

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  • University of Minnesota Press
  • Hardcover
  • October 2019
  • 312 Pages
  • 9781517904517

Buy the Book

$26.95

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About Ola Larsmo

Ola Larsmo is a critic and columnist for Sweden’s largest newspaper, Dagens Nyheter, and the award-winning author of nine novels and several collections of short stories and essays. He has been president of PEN Sweden and editor of Bonniers Literary Magazine. Tiina Nunnally is an award-winning translator of Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish literature, including Sigrid Undset’s novels Kristin Lavransdatter, Jenny, and Marta Oulie.

Praise

“A sober and realistic portrayal of the suffering and hardships that awaited Swedish immigrants in America, Swede Hollow is a moving, at times harrowing, always convincing novel on a truly epic scale.” Steve Sem-Sandberg, author of The Emperor of Lies 

“A rich and compelling read addressing the basic question of immigration: how does one make a life in a new country?” —Mary Logue, author of the Claire Watkins mysteries 

“Ola Larsmo writes with sympathy and grace, and his tale is a quiet epic, full of wonder and dreams and loss. Not to be missed.” —Larry Millett, author of Metropolitan Dreams

Discussion Questions

1. Why are Gustaf and Anna not seeing eye-to-eye about where they should be going once they reach the States? What might their different reasons be? Why is it so hard to discuss?

2. In New York, why is Gustaf so upset when he realizes that the Norwegian’s stool is not in the alley anymore?

3. The Klar family is lucky to see a familiar face at the railway depot in St. Paul when they run into the older Gavin boy, but why do the Swedes have such a hard time communicating with their Irish neighbors in the Hollow? Is it just language issues, or are there more barriers than that?

4. What are the differences between the Swedes down in the Hollow and other Scandinavians living “up on the street?”

5. The “love story” between David and Agnes Karin is in many ways a driving force in the story. But how does it affect the other people around them? What influence does it have on the fate of the Klar family? What about Inga and Jonathan?

6. Did “Ola Värmlänning” really exist? No one in Sweden has ever heard of him, but the stories about him are still being told among descendants of Swedish immigrants in Minnesota and Illinois. Where do these stories come from? What function do they have in an immigrant society? Can you think of any similar stories you might have heard?

7. What role does religion play in the lives of the inhabitants in the Hollow?

8. What part did Carl Hammerberg really play during the lynchings and murders in Duluth? Was it appropriate or unfair that he received a prison sentence? (The background to the lynchings, and documents from the legal proceedings, can be found on the Minnesota Historical Society’s website.) 

9. How do you perceive the “love story” between Ellen and Sol? Is it love? What different needs do they have?

10. Do the relationships between the different ethnic groups in the Hollow change over time? How? What’s it like in the Hollow today?