An American dream from Norway
Author Odd Sverre Aasbø has always been fascinated by the country to which so many Norwegians emigrated
The most wonderful moments I have ever experienced while traveling are those that are purely accidental. My recent trip to the American Festival in Vanse, Norway, did not disappoint. While there, I met the writer of a new book entitled, The Dream of America: From the Vikings to the Super Bowl. I had a chance to speak with the author, Odd Sverre Aasbø, about his life as a writer, other projects with which he has been involved, and of course about his newly published book. Highlights of our conversation follow.
Victoria Hofmo: What is your connection to America?
Odd Sverre Aasbø: My grandfather emigrated to New York in 1923. He did not stay; he went back to Norway a couple of years later. But later all of his sons, except my father, traveled and lived in the U.S. for shorter or longer periods. I remember I was so jealous when I was a kid. I thought, why couldn’t we also live in the U.S. like all my uncles and family there?
VH: Can you speak a little about why you wrote this book?
OSA: I remember being a child and watching all the American films at the theater and on the TV screen. Gunsmoke, the Lone Ranger, and Hopalong Cassidy were my heroes. I was in fact very upset about not being an American. As a child I had a dream. And my dream was often about going to the land of freedom and liberty. America was my goal.
VH: When did your interest in writing begin?
OSA: I’ve always been interested in telling stories and having a focus on communication. Most people look at me as a creative person. So writing a book felt very natural for me, especially on a topic that has always been my passion.
VH: Have you written any other books?
OSA: I have written and published two books before, Sport in Risør: Then and Now and Optimism, Enthusiasm and Commitment: The Story of Risør Handball Club. But they were both local history books with little national or international importance. Both books dealt with local sports in my local community in the southern town Risør. For many years, I was very involved in sports locally, and was president of the local handball team.
VH: I found out about your newest publication, The Dream of America: From the Vikings to the Super Bowl, at the American Festival in Vanse, where you and your publisher were present. How was your book received at the festival?
OSA: Many people bought the book and the feedback was amazing. The press and radio broadcasters also showed great interest. So for me the festival weekend was a great experience. The great enthusiasm for the book made me both proud and happy. For me, he American Festival in Vanse was an adventure.
VH: What is the book’s main focus?
OSA: There are many books written about Norwegian emigration. But I hope and believe that my book is different. In this book there is little focus on numbers, figures, and tables… The story is exciting and fascinating, but above all important. It is a story about dreams. It’s about toil and hardship, but also happiness and success. The book is about the exciting relationship that has existed between the United States and Norway, ever since the discovery of continent and up to the present, on both sides of the Atlantic.
I think that Norwegians are more central to American history than originally anticipated. But due to the poor maintenance of the Norwegian-American history, much has disappeared. I’m absolutely convinced that there were many more Norwegians who came to America than the official figures show, and many of them left deep traces.
There are so many fascinating people and exciting events that deserve to see the light of day and become more known among younger people. If you ask any Norwegian (or Norwegian American) 12 to 13-year-old boy or girl today, no one knows who Leiv Eiriksson is. Nor is there any who know Cleng Peerson. That is sad and I would love to change that.
VH: How is the book different from others that have been published?
OSA: The book deals with the period from the discovery of the new continent until today. The main difference compared to other books is probably that the book has a lot of focus on pride. Norwegian-American pride. I often think about the Norwegians as the forgotten immigrants. They are often seen as an invisible or gray mass. Often with a boring story. This is not the truth. It’s about time that somebody stands up and gives voice to the proud Norwegian-American history. My message is: Be proud to be an American with Scandinavian heritage. Your forefathers were deeply involved in the creation of the New World.
VH: Can you tell our readers one interesting fact you uncovered about the Norwegians in America?
OSA: It is hardly a fact, but the funniest thing I found was that President Washington possibly had Norwegian roots.
Drømmen om Amerika is available at Norwegian bookstores or at www.aktive-fredsreiser.no/administrasjon/aktiv_fredforlag.htm. Aasbø’s publisher, Aktive Fredsreiser is currently in discussion with the Scandinavian East Coast Museum about publishing an English-language version of the book.
This article originally appeared in the July 29, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.