The beauty of history that lives and breathes
I Paid All My Debts: A Norwegian-American Immigrant Saga of Life on the Prairie of North Dakota. Lloyd A. Svendsbye. Minneapolis: Lutheran University Press. 2009. 164 pages. Perfectbound. $18.00. www.lutheranupress.org.
A lover of North Dakota history (like this reviewer) will be won over by the content of Lloyd A. Svendbye’s I Paid All My Debts. (You had me at “nonpartisan league,” Lloyd.) Former Luther Seminary professor Svendsbye’s family history is truly archetypal in its depiction of the immigrant experience in the Meadowlark state. His grasp on the interaction of prairie, piety, and politics on the lives of North Dakota pioneers is indeed impressive.
But I Paid for All My Debts is accessible to every reader. While the number of good historical writers is somewhat limited, the number who capture the imagination of readers is exponentially smaller. Svendsbye is one of the few.
Svendsbye’s family story, common to most families arriving in the late 1800s, is one of altered spellings of family names that accompanies the immigrants’ landscape changing. For readers, this is generally a nightmare. But Svendsbye never lets the reader get lost; without being overly redundant, he keeps readers on track with each name change.
And, as indicated by the title, this offering opens a window on the Norwegian Americans’ approach to life — be it financial, political, spiritual, or social. Nothing in their life, or this book, goes to waste.