forty seven

On his death bed, at a youngish age, Alexandra Bergson’s father told her three younger brothers to listen to Alexandra, to be guided by her in relation to the running of the family farm, as she was the sibling who had been most interested in learning from him, shadowing him round the place day after day. And so, for twenty years with hard work and wise investments Alexandra transformed the small dusty patch of Nebraska known as ‘the Divide’, from its unpromising beginnings, to a sprawling success. She bought up neighbouring farms as their owners gave up the struggle, sold-up and moved on; she embraced the latest techniques and technology, which she kept abreast of by studying the journals. All in all she made their land a success and the brothers, working for her, shared the fruits of this success…marrying and setting up their own house on their share of the land.

But Alexandra never married and when a childhood friend returns and she becomes romantically interested, two of the brothers try to usurp her from her place at the head of the family, unfairly downplaying her importance in their good fortune. The third and youngest brother Emil, suffers tragically for falling in love with the wrong woman on his return from travelling in Mexico.

This intragenerational strife forms the spine of this wonderfully concise and evocative novel. There are other elements: the land; the weather; the ex-pat Northern European community; the strange barefoot Bible-quoting hermit, who Alexandra takes under her wing and allows to move in to her barn from his quasi-cave hovel.

In 160 pages it achieves far more than many book two or three times its size.

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