Lectures & Literary past

Swede Hollow Book Talk With Ola Larsmo


SAT—October 19—1 PM, free

Swedish author Ola Larsmo joins us to discuss his latest book Swede Hollow, a riveting family saga immersed in the gritty, dark side of Swedish immigrant life in America in the early 20th century. When Gustaf and Anna Klar and their three children leave Sweden for New York in 1897, they take with them a terrible secret and a longing for a new life. But their dream of starting over is nearly crushed at the outset: a fire devastates Ellis Island just as they arrive, and the relentlessly harsh conditions and lack of work in the city make it impossible for Gustaf to support his family.

But an unexpected gift allows the Klars to make one more desperate move, this time to the Midwest and a place called Swede Hollow: a cluster of shacks in a deep, wooded ravine on the edge of St. Paul, Minnesota, populated by a hardscrabble lot of Irish, Italian, and Swedish immigrants. While the men labor at low-paid jobs on the Great Northern or Northern Pacific railroads or work at the nearby brewery, the women clean houses, work at laundries, or sew clothing in stifling factories.

Though outsiders malign Swede Hollow as unsanitary and rife with disease, the Klar family and their neighbors persevere in this neglected corner of the city—and consider it home.

Extensively researched and beautifully written, Ola Larsmo’s award-winning novel vividly portrays a family and a community determined to survive, as hardships, indignities, and harrowing encounters are accompanied by acts of loyalty and kindness, and moments of joy. This haunting story of characters often absent from the familiar stories of Swedish American history echoes the larger challenges of immigration in the 20th century on to today.

This event has been made possible in part through the generous support of the Consulate General of Sweden.

About the Author

Ola Larsmo is a critic and columnist for Sweden’s largest newspaper, Dagens Nyheter, and the author of nine novels and several collections of short stories and essays. He received the Bjørnson Prize from the Norwegian Academy of Literature and Freedom of Expression and, after the publication of Swede Hollow, two prestigious Swedish awards: the Lagercrantz Critics’ Prize from Dagens Nyheter and Natur & Kultur’s cultural prize.

Larsmo was president of PEN Sweden from 2009 to 2017 and editor of Bonniers Literary Magazine from 1984 to 1990.

About the Translator

Tiina Nunnally is the award-winning translator of Sigrid Undset’s novels Kristin Lavransdatter, Jenny, and Marta Oulie.

Her many translations from the Scandinavian languages include Vidar Sundstøl’s Minnesota Trilogy (Minnesota, 2013–15) and The Complete and Original Norwegian Folktales of Asbjørnsen and Moe (Minnesota, 2019).