The Dream of America
“… a promising start for a series about Norwegian emigration … [Brekke] has developed into a reliable and eloquent author of historical novels, and she definitely lives up to her reputation here. The Dream of America is an empathic, insightful and thrilling story of travelling westwards and the turbulent life that met the travellers.” Aftenposten
The plot of the first volume begins at the end of the Napoleonic wars and ends in 1845. We are introduced to the Quaker Society in Stavanger and the two main characters Håvard and Elise. The Quakers were persecuted by Norwegian authorities who forbade preaching in denominations outside the State Church. In America there is freedom of religion. Cleng Peerson has travelled ahead and acquired areas of land where the Norwegians can settle.
The evening before the newly-weds are due to sail on the first America ship – the sloop “ Restauration”, a converted 68-foot fishing vessel, Håvard is accused of having stolen a piece of silver jewellery and is arrested. The orphan siblings Elise and her brother Ansgar, who has Tourette’s syndrome, sail with the other fifty-one Norwegians. After a rough crossing from Madeira they arrive in New York on 9 October 1825 (a date that Norwegian-Americans have subsequently celebrated as Leif Eriksson Day). On the canal boat north to the Greta Lakes Francis de Lilac, an adventurer from Savannah, Georgia, appears on the scene. He makes a pass at Elise, who now calls herself Alice. She bears Håvard’s child, their daughter Brenda. Ansgar assumes responsibility for Brenda and travels to Chicago. Alice joins Francis. In 1837 Håvard is released from prison and travels to America to look for Elise/Alice. On the boat he meets a widow from Tinn in Telemark. The first volume ends with Håvard arriving in Koshkonong.
The narrative nerve of the novel is the relationship between Håvard and Elise, which takes them both from destitute Norway to the America of the immigrants, a new Norwegian community built from the start in an unknown country.
In 2005 she made two research trips to those areas where the greatest number of Norwegian emigrants settled down. She travelled on the Erie Canal, opened in 1825, connecting the Atlantic with the Great Lakes which were the route to the Midwest and the prairies in the West, the promised land for masses of European immigrants. Toril Brekke has also conducted research at the Norwegian-American historical archives in Madison, Wisconsin, in the heart of Norwegian Ameirca. Barely an hour’s drive from Madison lies the town of Koshkonong, a community established in the 1840s following the flooding and destruction of the great colony at Muskego. Toril Brekke has seen the farms, churches and prairie wagons of the Norwegian pioneers from Jæren, Ryfylke, Sogn, Voss and Telemark (Tinn).