Thursday, February 16, 2012

Review: Oleanna

OleannaOleanna by Julie K. Rose
Set during the separation of Norway from Sweden in 1905, this richly detailed novel of love and loss was inspired by the life of the author's great-great-aunts.
Oleanna and her sister Elisabeth are the last of their family working their farm deep in the western fjordland. A new century has begun, and the world outside is changing, but in the Sunnfjord their world is as small and secluded as the verdant banks of a high mountain lake. With their parents dead and their brothers all gone to America, the sisters have resigned themselves to a simple life tied to the land and to the ghosts of those who have departed.
The arrival of Anders, a cotter living just across the farm's border, unsettles Oleanna's peaceful but isolated existence. Sharing a common bond of loneliness and grief, Anders stirs within her the wildness and wanderlust she has worked so hard to tame. When she is confronted with another crippling loss, Oleanna must decide once and for all how to face her past, claim her future, and find her place in a wide new world.
Oleanna was short-listed in the 2011 Faulkner-Wisdom novel competition.

My Review:
I didn't read the description well before reading this book, apparently.  Reading it, I didn't realize the ties the author had to the story and characters, and when I saw "ghosts" in the description, I took it literally, thinking there was going to be a paranormal element to the story.  There isn't.  
At first I wasn't sure how I would like it, because when I started reading it, I realized it was set in the early 20th century, in a very rural area in Norway.. Not a time frame in which I could ever imagine myself living.  The more I read of this story, the more I realized that I definitely was not made for this era (as in to live in), some people say they'd love to live back then, not me!  I'm too attached to my technology and I'm basically spoiled, all that hard labor would not work for me! :)
As I continued to read I became very invested in the characters, Oleanna "Lea", her sister Elisabeth "Lisbet", Torjus ~ her nephew, and, of course, Anders, the passionate love interest.  I found myself often exasperated with Oleanna.. she's stubborn and makes decisions I couldn't imagine making myself.  I saw her as trapped by the fear and guilt over her mother & younger sister's tragic death.  I honestly thought her weak, choosing the farm and her "responsibilities" over her happiness.  Eventually, I realized she was actually strong, and selfless, not weak and fearful; that my own decisions in her same situation would have been the "easier" and "weak" ones.  I found myself wondering and worrying if things would finally work out for her, she deserved for them to, and realized how into the story I really was.. I cared for her!  I have to say (without giving anything away) that I was quite worried about the ending of the book, and it did surprise me with a happy ending so nice (and not over the top), that I found myself smiling at around midnight, as I was still up to finish the book.  It gave me a nice feeling of the way life should work out without being just too perfect and sickening.. 
I enjoy reading the author's notes at the end of the novels and loved Julie's!  She explained her connection to the book, it was actually loosely based on her family, which made the story even more wonderful.  She also included an old letter she found from her great grandfather, which is the brother, John, from the story.  Beautiful.
I gave this book 4 stars.

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