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The Boat of Longing

The Boat of Longing

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Author O. E. Rolvaag

Minnesota Historical Society Press (May 15, 1985)

A compelling novel of immigrant life, set in Minneapolis in the early 1900s, by the acclaimed author of Giants in the Earth.


From the rocky, mist-enshrouded shores of Norway to the bustling streets of Minneapolis, O. E. Rølvaag lyrically chronicles the experiences of Nils Vaag, a young Norwegian immigrant. Abandoning the life of a fisherman in Nordland, a region poor but full of mystical beauty, Nils emigrates to the New World in 1912. There he sweeps saloons, lives in a boardinghouse called “Babel” for the many languages used by its residents, and begins to find his way among the people of the city.

The Boat of Longing was Rølvaag’s favorite of all his books and the only one set in urban America. When it was first published in English in 1933, it received wide praise from American critics.

Author information

The following bio of O.E. Rolvaag is from the MNHS Author Biographies Page:

Author and professor, Ole Edvart Rolvaag was a fisherman in Norway from 1892-96. He immigrated to the United States in 1896 and worked as a farmhand in South Dakota from 1896-98. He graduated from Augustana Academy in Canton, South Dakota (currently Augustana College, Sioux Falls) in 1901. Rolvaag earned a B.A. from St. Olaf College in 1905 and a M.A. from St. Olaf College in 1910. He studied at the University of Christiania (currently University of Oslo), Norway from 1905-06. He was a professor of Norwegian language and literature at St. Olaf College from 1906-31. He authored Norwegian language textbooks and novels, essays, and poems about the Norwegian-American immigrant experience. His novels, Giants in the Earth (1927) and Peder Victorious (1929), originally written in Norwegian, were published in English translation. They received international acclaim as accounts of immigrant pioneer life on the Dakota prairies in the 1870s. Rolvaag worked to preserve and enrich the Norwegian cultural heritage from 1914-25, and he helped found the Society for Norwegian Language and Culture in 1910 and the Norwegian-American Historical Association in 1925. He was secretary for the Norwegian-American Historical Association from 1925 to 1931. In 1926, Rolvaag was Knighted (Order of St. Olav) by King Haakon VII of Norway. The Ole Rolvaag Memorial Library at St. Olaf was named for him in 1944.

Reviews and news

"A tale woven of wisps of fog and shreds of sunshine: it is all Norse, yet thoroughly American."
New York Times Book Review

“A poetic representation of the isolation which a sensitive immigrant boy faces in the New World. . . . It should further establish Rølvaag’s high place in the literature of the American Midwest.”
New Republic

“Except for its form, The Boat of Longing is a poem rather than a novel. . . . In no one of Mr. Rølvaag’s books previously published in the United States has there been such sustained beauty of expression.”
Christian Science Monitor

“With a sigh of regret one lays down this charming story, so deep and true the values it shows one, so refreshing the atmosphere it spreads. . . . The book is absorbing, revealing, inspiring.”
Catholic World

  • 319 pages
  • 5.5 x 8.25 inches
  • ISBN: 9780873511841

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