Title: Scandinavians: In Search of the Soul of the North"
Author: Robert Ferguson
Content: 455 pages, two maps, 50 black and white photos
Born in the United Kingdom in 1948, Robert Ferguson immigrated to Norway in 1983 and has lived there since. He is an award-winning writer, translator and radio dramatist. He has authored many books, including "The Vikings: A History."
To grasp the full essence of the countries of Scandinavia, which include Norway, Sweden and Denmark, the author takes us through 2,000 years of historical events related to the area. From the Viking era to last year’s statistical economic status of Scandinavia, he relates the literature, culture, social climate, politics and temperament. He uses translations of historical literature in an attempt to understand the soul of these three interconnected countries.
My particular interest was his writing about the emigrants from Scandinavia and the reasons so many came to the United States and the Midwest. Between 1836 and 1915, 800,000 Norwegians had emigrated to the United States. The corresponding figure for Sweden over the same period is 1.25 million. By 1870, the number of Scandinavians in the American population had risen to 241,669 with Norwegian born numbering 114,243, Swedes 97,328 and Danes 30,098.
From the end of the Civil War to the 1920s, emigration showed peaks that corresponded to crop failures in Norway and Sweden. Other factors were what are called chain emigration, in which entire communities dissolved, emigrated and reformed in a new country. Other contributing factors included a near doubling of the Scandinavian population in the 19th century as a result of peace, better nutrition and better health care.
Norway is one of the richest nations on earth, following the discovery of North Sea oil in the 1960s and canny investments from the profits of that state-owned industry. This is a society so wealthy that by the early 21st century its working class has all but disappeared. It has to import this working class to build and repair housing, drive public transportation and taxis and even keep the hospitals and senior living facilities open.
This is a very open society; it is not punitive. There is a strong sense among the people that the government will always respond to public concern. It is one of the most advanced countries in the world in terms of equality of opportunity and equality in rights between men and women. Up to 75 percent of women are employed and men often work in child-care roles. This is a society built on trust and faith in human nature.
When a Norwegian does well in the outside world, the whole country celebrates. It’s as if someone’s favorite child has brought honor to the family. There is little back biting. Everyone shares in the achievement and feels a collective pride. There, reputations are preserved for generations.