Historic Viking trail leads Norwegian author to Mitchell
The Viking spirit of their ancestors and the insatiable thirst to explore new shores led the Norwegian author Dag Gundersen Storla and his wife Guro all the way from Stavanger in Norway to Mitchell.
On Monday, the medical doctor and historic novelist presented his trilogy-book-series to the public during a special presentation at the Carnegie Resource Center in Mitchell. The literary works were recently translated and published in English. His first book, "Snowdrop Waltz," describes the life and stories of young people and their unbending will to live, following the first Norwegian settlers across the Atlantic and telling their stories of arrival in the new world.
"Historic novelists usually describe how people lived at a certain time, or they describe how the characters' lives unfolded once they arrived in America. But there are not many books out there following the path of these immigrants and how they ended up in certain areas," Storla said.
The second book, "Red Campions," describes the journey of a young couple following their struggle for love and happiness after leaving Norway.
In the third novel, "Watch the Lilies How They Grow," the main character Josephine has left her hometown Stavanger in Norway behind, embarks on the long boat trip to New York and then travels via train to South Dakota, where her love Alvin is waiting.
Ancestors of the Storla family settled around Mitchell between 1860 and 1880, right around the time when the Homestead Act of 1862 was passed, a law by which applicants could gain ownership of government land or public domain.
"Land was given to farmers for five years for free. This was like a dream come true for Norwegians," Storla said.
In the mid-1800s the population of Norway was experiencing crop failures, blights and poor harvests leading to poverty. Some of the immigrants were seeking religious freedom, but most came because of the land, Storla believes.
"The most important reasons were poverty and that only four percent of the land in Norway can be cultivated. There is a scarcity of land. The country was also experiencing a huge population boom and families with ten or more children were the norm," Storla said. "Only the eldest could inherit the family farm, if there was one."
Over 800,000 Norwegians left their homeland in the 1860s and grew to the second largest group of immigrants in the U.S., settling mainly in Minnesota, Iowa and North and South Dakota. Today there are more than 4.5 million Norwegian Americans in the nation, based on the most recent U.S. census.