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Giants in the Earth: A Saga of the Prairie (Perennial Classics) Paperback – August 4, 1999

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Giants in the Earth: A Saga of the Prairie (Perennial Classics) + Peder Victorious: A Tale of the Pioneers Twenty Years Later + Their Fathers' God
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Product Details

  • Series: Perennial Classics
  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics (August 4, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060931930
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060931933
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.3 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (123 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #40,506 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"A firmly woven tapestry of harsh texture wrought by a master sure in his choice of strong fiber and of color, telling with heroic gesture and intricate design its legend of simple people struggling in the eternal coil of unwitting life." -- Times Literary Supplement (London)

"A moving narrative of pioneer hardship and heroism...The background of the boundless Dakota prairie, with its mysterious distances and its capacity for evil, is painted with alternating beauty and grimness." -- -- Atlantic Monthly

"The fullest, finest, and most powerful novel that has been written about pioneer life in America." -- -- The Nation

About the Author

O. E. Rölvaag was born in 1876. His books include Peder Victorious and Their Fathers' God. He died in 1931.

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Customer Reviews

I read this book because I saw it on a list of recommended high school reading.
A. Nesbitt
This is a story of Norwegian immigrants to America and how they struggle against the harshness of nature to make new homes in a new land.
Shalom Freedman
I am from south dakota area where this novel wwas set and thought the book was great history as well as a fine story.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

128 of 129 people found the following review helpful By Kirk F. Sniff on March 13, 2000
Format: Paperback
Rolvaag's classic is a treasure. I feel cheated that I didn't discover until I was 48 years old. On the other hand, a half a century of life's experience only enhances one's enjoyment of the book. Rolvaag's characters are unbelievably rich and psychologically deep: Beret, the troubled homesteader's wife, Pers Hansa, her resourceful and cunning husband, their solid neighbor Han Olsa and his able and gentle wife Sorrine, the ebullient and politically crafty Syvert, and his wife Kjersti, who longs for a child she will never have but adopts her little community instead. These core characters and many others give lessons in the mysteries of the Universe, not the least of which are the fine line between piety and insanity, the contradictory emotions that form the bond between a mother and child, and man's lust for a place of his own. Ole Rolvaag was quiet professor at St. Olaf's college with a typical emigrant's bio, but in that mind of his, wonderful and horrible tales raged that invested the flat prairies of the Dakota Territory with fearful storms, mischievous trolls, plagues of Biblical proportion and daily struggles of a man and a woman in conflict in a land that shows no mercy. I understand that this book is sometimes assigned as mandatory reading for high schoolers. In a way that's a shame; this is a book for grownups who know where the characters have been and are going.
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71 of 72 people found the following review helpful By Scott Johnson on March 18, 2002
Format: Paperback
O.E. Rolvaag's epic GIANTS IN THE EARTH is truly an American classic, especially for those of Norwegian or Scandinavian descent or those who've lived in the Great Plains. It seems to be a true description of the life the early settlers lived, the desperation of opressive freedom, and the claustrophobic effect of too much open space.
Per Hansa, the protagonist of our story, moves his family from a fishing village in Norway to the plains of the Dakota Territory in the last part of the 19th century. They are homesteaders, the people who settled the untamed prairie and bound themselves to it, sometimes at great personal cost.
Rolvaag brilliantly describes both the psychological effect of early prairie life and the Norwegian immigrant culture of the time. Being a new land, there were new challenges, new ideas, and new opportunities. In Per Hansa, Rolvaag invents a character that displays the passion and drive of the early settlers. His wife, Beret, like so many wives of the time, follows him with little idea of the hardships and, unfortunately, none of the psychological tools to deal with them. Their neighbors are wonderfully crafted: Tonesten, the whiner; Kjersti, his strong, capable, disrespectful wife; Hans Ola, the solid, dependable Scandinavian whose success is not so much from following his dreams as it is making no mistakes.
One comes to love the settlers even as they deal with squatters, locusts, sod houses, and the endless winter of the northern Plains. Midwestern Americans of Scandinavian descent will know that this is our story - our great-grandparents and great-great grandparents were contemporaries of Per Hansa and Beret.
Rolvaag should know this story - he himself was an immigrant and lived in Northfield, Minnesota for many years.
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Sam Swenson on February 11, 2003
Format: Paperback
Rolvaag's Giants in the Earth will forever remain as of the truly epic works of American literature. A descendant of the Trottlander tribe of southern Norway myself, I grew up on a farm in midwest Minnesota and experienced the identical landscapes so vividly described in Rolvaag's masterpiece. Needless to say, I have always felt a profound connection to this work through how its rich pathetic fallacy largely mirrored my childhood fantasies and dreams.
Giants in the Earth is a novel about dichotomous relationships. And in a novel that depicts how relationships ultimately define their participants, the central figure in this important work is the land itself. It is interesting to note the order of effects the pastoral loneliness produces in its inhabitants. Beret, like many other non-natives living on the Great Plains, views the land as a lethal threat too pervasively gargantuan to overcome. Per on the other hand, views the land like so many of my father's generation: a fertile blessing that contains some of the most arable land on the entire planet. The attitudes of the novel's central characters towards their situation comes to reveal their strengths and weaknesses in a poignant, bittersweet saga as morose and sublime as the land itself. Compelling, tragic, humorous and underspoken, Rolvaag's Giants in the Earth reflects the feelings and goals of an entire generation of immigrants striven to succeed at all costs. Thankfully for us all, they did.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By droolmouth on May 18, 2007
Format: Paperback
There are better-known stories of the homesteading experience, such as Willa Cather's "My Antonia" and Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House" series, but none of them hit as close to the truth as did O.E. Rolvaag in "Giants in the Earth."

It is translated into something of an epic style, somewhat like James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking series, but its subject matter almost demands such a style. Because it tells an epic story, of Per's struggles against the prairie, the harsh weather, and against the burden of his well-meaning wife, who lacks Per's inner resources to thrive, despite the forbidding conditions.

But of all the homesteading fiction, "Giants in the Earth" is the closest to the truth of any I have read, in capturing the beauty and violence of the prairie, and the sincere, honest, hard-working beauty of the pioneers who tamed it. Because the truth isn't the pretty pastels of the Little House books. The prairie homesteader had a bleak, harsh, spartan existence, especially before the sod was broken and the trees were planted. There are substantiated accounts of homesteaders and their young families dying out here--starving in the winters if the food carried over from the fall ran out, or freezing to death in blizzards when the snow covered the sodhouses and the fuel was used up. Waves of diphtheria, tuberculosis and influenza killed still more, sending the remnants of the broken families back East. (But when the truth isn't pretty, it is usually covered up.)

So in my opinion, this is a story about greatness, and how even the most apparently humble men can become truly great--daring and achieving things that should be impossible.
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