review · Translated · U.S.

The Land of Dreams by Vidar Sundstøl

land of dreamsThe Land of Dreams by Vidar Sundstøl, translated by Tiina Nunnally
University of Minnesota Press, September 2013
Originally published as Drømmenes land, 2008

FTC Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I picked up this book for a number of reasons: (1) I’d like to read some Norwegian crime fiction that’s not by Jo Nesbø or Anne Holt. (2) The Land of Dreams has won or been nominated for a number of awards, which could be a plus or a negative because I don’t know the idiosyncracies of judging panels for every crime fiction award. (3) I liked Nunnally’s translation of Misterioso by Arne Dahl. (4) It’s a book written by a Norwegian about an area of the U.S. teeming with Norwegian Americans, which makes for an interesting perspective. According to the publisher, Sundstøl and his wife lived in Minnesota on Lake Superior for two years, and the time inspired him to write the Minnesota Trilogy. (5) And finally, I’m interested in the history of Great Lakes states since I’ve lived in Michigan over 10 years. But what about the story?

The Land of Dreams is a moody book that centers on Lance Hansen, a forty-something U.S. Forest Service police officer who discovers a dead Norwegian man near an area named Baraga’s Cross on Lake Superior. While Lance is not a participant in the investigation since he’s a main witness, the story follows him the most because of his discovery of the body and he is the local historian, complete with the county historical archive in his home. The moodiness comes about because of the gruesomeness of the crime, the intractableness of the investigation, and the lonesomeness of Lance as he’s trying to cope with the shock of the crime.

Some readers may fault sections of the book as an info dump: there’s an awful lot of time spent with the Norwegian settlers of Cook County Minnesota, Lance’s ancestors and his immediate family, the Ojibway who first settled the land, the fur trappers, and more. I didn’t mind the slow pace because I don’t know much about the background and history of northern Minnesota. Also, the history and the stories people tell are central to the solving of the crime as well as Lance’s investigation into the disappearance of an Ojibway man named Swamper Caribou over a hundred years ago. It definitely left me with a lot to think about “stories people tell over and over though they know it’s not true.” While I tend to prefer novels with more plot, this was an interesting read.

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11 thoughts on “The Land of Dreams by Vidar Sundstøl

  1. Rebecca – This sounds as much like a study of a way of life and an area as much as it is a crime novel. Interesting…. Maybe I’ll add it to the list for when I’m looking for a ‘history’ sort of novel.

    1. It’s the first of a trilogy, and I’m not sure what the ratio of crime to history is in the subsequent book. This may very well have been the historical background book while the others feel different. Hope you like it, Margot!

  2. Interesting review. I have it from NetGalley on my TBR list – I believe the publication date has been put back to 7th October, BTW. It looked good from the blurb, and like you I enjoyed Tiina Nunally’s translations in other books. Should be reading it soon…

    1. You’re welcome, Sarah. I need to check out reviews of the rest of the trilogy because I’m not sure what direction it will go. (I’m not sure which characters will reoccur.)

  3. This does sound worth a try. The history of Norwegians settling in Minnesota sounds very interesting. Especially because I have a very good friend whose relatives come from Minnesota and he has Norwegian background. And I like your five reasons for wanting to read it.

    1. Thanks, Tracy. I hope you like it. I’ve read some mixed reviews of the second book in the series. The main criticism is that it’s too slow. It’s always funny to read reviews via Google Translate, so I may be missing something in the reviews.

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