BOOK REVIEW: Lillian Budd

by Elder M. Lindahl

Trilogy by Lillian Budd

April Snow, J.B. Lippincott, New York, NY, 1951

Land of Strangers, J. B. Lippincott, New York, NY, 1953

April Harvest, Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, New York, NR, 1959

Lillian Budd (1897–1989), born in Chicago to immigrants Charles and Selma Peterson, a WWI Navy veteran and Western Electric Company employee, wrote a delightful trilogy about Swedish-American immigration.

Budd’s trilogy stands somewhat in contrast to Vilhelm Moberg’s well-known immigrant tetralogy. His Karl Oskar and Kristina are Swedes who, once settled near Lindström, Minn., try to preserve as best they can the old culture in the new land. For them, especially Kristina, the immigrant experience was fundamentally lonely and disorienting, one of being away from a real home. On the other hand, Budd’s Karl and Elin, who in America become Carl and Ellen, orient themselves positively to life in the new, unfamiliar land. They work within the myriad diversities of the American culture, learn English, have jobs, attend concerts, and make friends with Germans, Italians, Dutch, Irish and others.

April Snow begins with Karl’s birth, in a snow tunnel between the house and the barn on a farm called Norden, in the province of Bohuslän on the Kattegat Sea between Denmark and Sweden. Alone and hungry at Karl’s birth, his mother Sigrid thought first about the livestock, which had not been fed for a day.

Karl grew up to be a fine, thoughtful, caring young man who loved to write. The day his father, Peter, sold Hjärta without Karl’s knowledge or permission, however, young Karl set himself against his father and mother, and determined to immigrate to America. The incident caused Karl to lose his faith in God. Peter and Sigrid Petersson, Karl’s parents, are both Pietists, but of quite different sorts. Peter, who sits in his rocker with an open Bible from which he pontificates literally and frequently, is a mean-spirited, self-centered, lusty man. Sigrid is a hard-working, loving, caring person of faith. In addition to Karl, she bore Peter twelve children, often one every year while she worked the farm, kept house, tended livestock, cared for her old uncle, was involved in church, and loved all her children faithfully.

The second novel, Land of Strangers, tells the story of Karl as he leaves home and works for the White Star Line out of Göteborg, and his arrival in the United States and settled in Geneva, Ill, near Wheaton College, where he hoped to study shorthand. In time, he marries a Swedish emigrant, Ellen Anderson, born Elin Nilsson, and they have a daughter named Sigrid. In Sweden, Morfar Sigrid tries unsuccessfully over the years to make contact with Karl, who went by the name Carl Matthew Christianson after emigrating. Carl manifests in his life style a fascinating blend of atheism and human piety. Though he has a lifelong problem with drink and has little to do with the church, he is a caring, civil, loving person who fits well into the American scene and culture. There were many times when Ellen suspects he is sitting on a bar stool, only to learn later that Karl was actually out helping people in distress.

April Harvest completes the trilogy. Carl, after a good life of work and family, dies fairly young in a heroic and sacrificial way. At 17, American Sigrid submits one of Carl’s manuscripts to a contest and wins. The work is published and the proceeds enable her to make a trip to Sweden to visit Morfar Sigrid, as well as her own mother Ellen’s relatives. Young Sigrid, like author Lillian, had learned enough Swedish to handle conversation in Sweden quite well. She is received royally as Karl’s daughter.

Despite the warm reception, the many interesting contacts and tours of old sites, and a marriage proposal by a handsome young Swede, Sigrid casts her lot with America, deciding to marry a non-Swede.

Lillian Budd’s trilogy is well-researched, creative, insightful, and moving. At times, Budd’s Swedish reveals clearly she is American-born. For example, among Swedes I know, “adjö” or “hej” are much more common words of parting than the French word “adieu.” Budd’s Swedish grammar is sometimes flawed. Just the same, she knows the Swedish landscape, ways, holidays, and foods. And, she knows the American scene and geography well, especially Chicago, Lake Michigan, Rose Hill Cemetery, Oak Park, Galena, and so forth. I highly recommend her exciting trilogy. Though out of print, these volumes may be purchased on the Internet or obtained from local libraries.