For a couple of years or more I have been formulating in my mind a basic storyline for a novel. I must say that, among types of literature, the novel is not my preference. However, there are some things that you can say in a novel that you are not able to say in another type of writing.
At first, I wanted this novel to be loosely based on my ancestor’s lives in Sweden leading up to their emigration to America; then including their early lives in Wisconsin. There are some wonderful stories of my mother’s family’s lives that should be told.
However, since I have wanted the story to be mostly an allegory, it could not be tied too closely to the actual history of these folks. I would have to take too many liberties with the actual facts to make it fair to them.
Because of this, I will make no claims to the family history aspect of the story, although I will say that it is their history that is inspiring me in this task. The allegory aspect is the most important to me, since there is a story that I want to tell through it.
From time to time, I may include on this blog a portion of this first manuscript attempt, as I am doing this week; or perhaps some interesting historical fact I have learned in researching this project.
I am also asking your help in this. Even though the family history may be far from correct, I do wish to keep the actual history of national and cultural events as accurate as possible. If you see a mistake or an anachronism, I would appreciate your input.
Thanks. Here then, is the first part of the very first chapter.
introduction to ANDERS JOHANSSON
It was almost startling how early in the day the darkness came. The time was only about 2:30 in the afternoon, but already it was difficult for the man walking in the failing light of evening to make out the trail back to his cabin. As the man picked his way through the dark shadows of nightfall, he stumbled once on a limb that had broken off of a tree and was lying in the darkness across the path. He slipped a bit in the snow and it was only with some difficulty that he managed to regain his balance and keep himself from falling all the way to the ground.
The walker was named Anders Johansson, and the place was the midlands of Sweden. More specifically, it was in the province of Värmland, and the year was 1874.
The darkness at this hour of the day had taken Anders almost by surprise, as if it were something out of the ordinary. But Anders knew that the early sunset should not have been unexpected. It was winter, and at these latitudes, the daylight hours were always fleeting at this time of the year.
Nevertheless, even though he knew this fact, it was every year that Anders seemed to be taken aback by the early sunset. He was caught unawares by this because of the stark contrast that there was between the winter and the summer months. In the summer, the situation was just the reverse. The sun barely even set below the horizon in the summer; and true darkness only lasted a couple of hours. But now, in the winter, there were a mere five or six hours of daylight, making the day seem almost over as soon as it had begun.
Anders reached the front step of his little cabin and stomped his boots to get rid of as much snow as he could before opening the door. He lived alone, so there was no warming and cheering fire waiting for him in the hearth. No smoke coming out of the chimney. The inside of the cabin would be cold. In fact, once he stepped inside, it seemed to him colder inside the cabin than it did outside. It wasn’t really, but when one enters a house in the winter, almost instinctively he expects it to be warm. When it is not, the coldness seems all the more intense.
Every evening this winter, when Anders returned to his cabin and felt the coldness even inside his home, his memory returned to another specific winter, just a few years ago. In this region of Sweden, that winter of the past was now remembered as the Winter of the Great Hunger. He had barely survived that year. Many people he knew did not. Even some of his own family had succumbed to the starvation of that time.
Anders shivered inside of his cold cabin, but it was not only the temperature that made him tremble. Despite the fact that that winter of hunger was some years in the past, the memory of it still made him shudder.
Just as the early darkness caught him a bit unawares, so did these nagging and distressing remembrances of that frigid winter of starvation. Anders had not thought much about it in the winters that immediately had followed that one, only in that he was glad that it was over. However, this year, he was haunted by the memories. He did not know why those thoughts suddenly made a return, nor could he shake the visions of the past that came to him.
In his mind he saw the emaciated bodies of his family, their eyes bereft of hope. In the village he had even seen a child sitting pitilessly in the snow by the edge of the road. His fingers were raw and red. The child had been so hungry that he had been gnawing on his own hands.
Anders quickly busied himself with getting a fire started in the large, open fireplace that dominated one end of his cabin. He did this mostly, of course, because he wanted to warm up his cabin as quickly as possible. However, if he were completely honest with himself, he knew that hurrying himself in the task would occupy his mind and let him put out of mind those harsh remembrances.