Houghton Mifflin, 1913
O’Pioneers is the story of immigrant pioneers in Nebraska around the turn of the twentieth century. The Bergson family, along with most of their neighbors, are Swedish immigrants who have never farmed before. Most of them are failing, but John Bergson, on his death bed, declares his wish that his daughter Alexandra be the one in charge of the farm over her two older brothers. John extracts a promise from Alexandra that she not leave the farm. John understands the intelligence, skill and foresight of his daughter. He knows she has what it takes to make the farm successful.
John Bergson was right. Even though other farms fail, Alexandra succeeds. She convinces her brothers to mortgage part of the farm in order to buy up other properties. They work hard and work smart even during the hard times until the mortgages are paid off. However, her two older brothers are continuously at odds with her and eventually the farm is divided into three sections.
Although this is a classic book by a classic author, at times it feels like a soap opera. In addition to the tale of building up the farm, it’s also the story of two romances. One is between Alexandra and her friend Carl. The other is that of Emil (the youngest brother) and a young woman in an unhappy marriage. There are also lots of assorted characters who come in and out of the story.
The book deals with issues that must have surprised many people at the time of it’s writing. There is, of course, the story of a strong woman doing so well in spite of the counsel given her by her brothers and other men of the day. I enjoyed the concept of the different character traits of those who stayed on the farm and those who went to the cities and other countries. Although Alexandra is happy on the farm, she wishes her younger brother could go away and not become like the older brothers. Her friend Carl, who has been away, believes he has achieved nothing of value by not being on the land.
I enjoyed the book. It was fun to step back in time and think through the issues of that day. I read this book for the Decades ’09 Challenge for the 1910’s.