Beyond Sing The Woods, by Trygve Gulbranssen
When I was about ten pages or so from finishing the book, I wondered how it was that the main characters were going to resolve their difficulties. It seemed like an obvious pairing between a wealthy and principled young man and a young woman who through strength of character was about to overcome poverty and find a secure place for herself in the Norwegian countryside, but the emotional reserve of the characters and their inability to communicate their feelings to each other–a highly relatable problem, I must admit–threatened to destroy everything. But the ending of this novel was perfect in a way that is quite rare, and such an ending made this book a lot better. After having read this novel I can understand why a friend of mine from church had read the novel dozens of times. Once you know how satisfying of an ending it is for characters you are rooting for, the novel is one that can be profitably read over and over again, pondering over the lessons the characters and their behavior have when it comes to how to behave with both mercy and justice.
Admittedly, this novel is a bit of a slow start. The essential drama of the book is the troubled relationship between the family that owns Bjorndal, a manor estate that seems stuck in the past but is able to overcome such difficulties, and the world around them. We see the family that owns Bjorndal dealing with the threat of dangerous wild animals, overcoming the social snobbery of the area of the Broad Leas, whose focus on image eventually leads them into a dangerous vulnerability to the manorial estate, and able to build some close ties with the shrewd bourgeoisie of Hamarrbo. Throughout the course of this novel we see generations marry, run their household, deal with questions of finance as well as the balance between old and new, and engage in social relationships with others. There are hints of omens and some detailed social dramas of how it is that people know about their own state and hope that it is not conveyed to others, and how it is that people are able to deal constructively with the advice that they receive and appreciate honest and good counsel. There are a lot of characters to root for here among men and women, and certain some villains as well who receive their proper comeuppance.
It has been thought that the series of novels of which this is the first part was the end of the Norwegian tradition of epic historical dramas. That is a great shame, because this novel does deal with vital and important matters like the relationship between mankind and creation, different classes and orders of mankind, and between people and God, all of which interact how we see other relationships. While the timing of the novel suggests that there could be larger points in mind here, the novel is really focused on the events of a small and obscure corner of Norway and not the larger geopolitical games in which Norway was a pawn being passed around from Denmark to Sweden. There are apparently two other novels in this series, which is obscure, out of print, and hard to find, and the third novel has never been translated into English. Having read this novel, I can understand why it is that my friend is so interested in the series and in reading this novel over and over again. It takes a bit of time to get into the action of this novel, but it is well worth it when one does, and those who have read this novel and enjoyed it have found something well worth appreciating, and it is only a shame that this novel is so obscure that few people are likely to have the chance to read and appreciate it.