Suddenly a Larger World: The Sons of Peter Olaf
by Richard H. Grabmeier
Authors Press

"'It is in the way the great spirit made us,' Lone Man said. 'He gave us strength of body and mind so that a warrior can do what he must do.'"

Author Grabmeier's historical family saga begins in 1918 on a World War I battlefield on the Western Front in France. Charles Hokanson is an "American serving in the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF), attached to an Australian unit (under British command) for no better reason than that his twin brother had preceded him to the war." Charles' patriotic sense of duty and filial piety are finely honed, but he has recently witnessed a buddy's demise in the trenches. To add to his grief, when the story opens Charles is giving comfort to an equally young and mortally wounded German soldier in a muddy shell crater. Glad that he hadn't caused the man's death, Charles' and many other young soldiers' romantic notions about military life are rudely dispelled by the troubling, bloody battles on the ground and in the air.

Grabmeier is an octogenarian and, as a novelist, appears to draw from his experiences of growing up on a family farm in Minnesota and, later, from his military service in Virginia and Vietnam. As a keen observer of relationships, his mostly multidimensional characters in this tightly written novel are relatable and realistic, leaning toward the more positive human traits of empathy, generosity, healthy curiosity, and loving-kindness. After exploring the experiences of the twin brothers and their father, Peter, in World War I, the plot trajectory returns stateside to Minnesota after the war's end. The remaining chapters chronicle how the large, multiracial family of Scandinavian and Chippewa heritage slowly returns to normal in their rural community with courtships, engagements, marriages, births, aging, and death. The younger family members pursue their dreams of prosperity with new business opportunities while older ones savor their remaining years and the fruit of lives well lived. This story is, in many ways, a quiet one despite the early and ongoing influence of a brutal world war, but it is not an insignificant tale with this juxtaposition of war and peace.

While the writing is often compelling and atmospheric, it can sometimes be a bit uneven. However, the authentic voice of the narrative easily carries the reader through any rough patches. This is also due to its quiet but strong nature, which aptly reflects the era and the midwestern Scandinavian culture. Readers will immediately feel the steady practicality as well as the stoic nature of Minnesota's Swedish and Native American communities as they ponder the intricate puzzle of the large Hokanson-Halvorsen clan, or H-clan as they call themselves. The clan's women bring their special touch to the mix with equally strong moral centers and devoted hearts. Star Flower, the Chippewa grandmother, delights with her sincere wisdom and simple tastes. Her daughter Sarah, born during Star Flower's first marriage with Peter Olaf Hokanson, is the mother of Christian Halvorsen (Hokanson), half-brother to Charles and Sven, another young warrior who served as an ace pilot in World War I. With many young characters coping with the wider world for the first time, the story will appeal to young adult and adult readers alike.

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