I’m not sure whether Tony Horwitz was the first to float the concept with his Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War, but if Eric Dregni can come anywhere close to Horwitz’s ability to enlighten and entertain, this next book is one I certainly want to read.
Vikings in the Attic: In Search of Nordic America doesn’t come out until May, but I have it on order and am really looking forward to handselling it.
We’re going to make “Books I Want to Read” a regular Monday feature at NewAlbanyBooks because the first day of the work week is rarely a day when you want to have someone pushing you to buy something. We tried to wait until Tuesday for our “READ ME” newsletters, so Monday is a great day to post something ruminative that you can dip into at your leisure. We hope you like the feature.
For now, I have to crib from the University of Minnesota Press’s catalog entry, but it’s certainly a better description than I could put up right now.
Growing up with Swedish and Norwegian grandparents with a dash of Danish thrown in for balance, Eric Dregni thought Scandinavians were perfectly normal. Who doesn’t enjoy a good, healthy salad (Jell-O packed with canned fruit, colored marshmallows, and pretzels) or perhaps some cod soaked in drain cleaner as the highlights of Christmas? Only later did it dawn on him that perhaps this was just a little strange, but by then it was far too late: he was hooked and a dyed-in-the-wool Scandinavian himself.
But what does it actually mean to grow up Scandinavian-American or to live with these Norwegians, Swedes, Finns, Danes, and Icelanders among us? In this book, Dregni tracks down and explores the significant – and quite often bizarre – historic sites, tales, and traditions of Scandinavia’s peculiar colony in the Midwest. It’s a legacy of the unique – collecting silver spoons, a suspicion of flashy clothing, shots of turpentine for the common cold, and a deep love of rhubarb pie – but also one of poor immigrants living in sod houses while their children attend college, the birth of the co-op movement, the Farmer-Labor party, and government agents spying on Scandinavian meetings hoping to nab a socialist or antiwar activist.
For all the tales his grandparents told him, Dregni quickly discovers there are quite a few they neglected to mention, such as Swedish egg coffee, which includes the eggshell, and Lutheran latte, which is Swedish coffee with ice cream. This book goes beyond the lefse, lutefisk, a lusekofter (lice jacket) sweaters to reveal the little-known tales that lie beneath the surface of Nordic America. Ultimately, Dregni ends up proving by example why generations of Scandinavian-Americans have come to love and cherish these tales and traditions so dearly. Well, almost all of them.*
* See lutefisk