Book review: Conversing with history

Jill Beatty
Daughters of Norway

For those of us who are the family historians, identifying names and birthdates is just not enough to satisfy our quest to know and understand our family history. We desire to search deeper into their stories, giving meaning and understanding in their life’s journey. Norwegians are traditionally great storytellers, and Conversations Loosely Translated is a good example of author Karen S. Swensson’s ability to do just that.

Weaving in and out of present-day life and the past, the author communicates with her relatives of long ago as they appear to her as ghostly visions, transporting her through time and history. Holding their hand, she travels through time from a park bench or the grocery store back to the old farm in Norway. There she experiences conversations with her great-grandparents as they discuss their family history, teach her about life on the farm, and explain their reasons for coming to America.

These clever interactions lead the reader to discover who these ancestors were, understand how they felt while dealing with their everyday life, and share in their hardships, triumphs, and dreams.

For those of us who have wondered why our relatives left Norway and what their journey to America may have been like, Swens­son does a good job painting a picture of what they might have seen, heard, and felt in their journey. Using the Norwegian words and descriptions, she educates us about 19th-century immigrant pioneers’ lives. This book is very educational and good for children to read.

The author looks back at the four generations of her family that farmed in Koshkonong, Wisconsin, sharing familiar memories of traditions and the culture of the area. She holds on tightly to this, yet Conversations is also a book about letting go and realizing that life does move on even through difficult times. We are all part of our family history, and being able to bring it to life lets you travel to places kept in the heart.

This article originally appeared in the March 10, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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