The Emigrants (novel series)

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The Emigrants
Statue of the main characters, Karl Oskar and Kristina, in Karlshamn
AuthorVilhelm Moberg
Original titleUtvandrarna
TranslatorGustaf Lannestock
GenreHistoric drama
PublisherBonniers (Swedish edition)
Publication date
1949, 1952, 1956, 1959
Published in English
1951, 1954, 1961, 1961
Media typePrint
Pages1780 (in total, Swedish edition)

The Emigrants is the collective name of a series of four novels by Swedish author Vilhelm Moberg. Written in the mid-twentieth century, they explore the large Swedish emigration to the United States that started about a century before. Many of the first immigrants settled in the Midwest, including the Minnesota Territory:

All the books have been translated into English, in addition to numerous other languages. The novels are generally considered to be among the best works of Swedish literature.


The first novel describes conditions in Sweden that caused people to become emigrants, and make the long and strenuous journey. A party of assorted people living in the province of Småland, Sweden, is explored as they decide to emigrate to the United States in 1850. (Later novels deal with their journey and settling in the Minnesota Territory.) They are among the first significant wave of immigration to the United States from Sweden.

The novel focuses primarily on Karl Oskar Nilsson and his wife, Kristina Johansdotter, a young married couple who live with their four small children: Anna, Johan, Lill-Märta, and Harald, and Karl Oskar's parents and his rebellious younger brother Robert. The family lives on a small farm at Korpamoen, where the soil is thin and rocky, making growing crops extremely difficult. Robert works for a neighboring farm family who mistreat him. He, together with his friend Arvid, first come across accounts of going to America. When he talks with Karl Oskar about the idea, his brother says that he's also intrigued by pamphlets saying conditions in North America for farmers are much better. Also, they will be able to homestead to acquire land. Kristina, however, is adamantly against emigrating, not wanting to leave her homeland or risk the lives of her children by the journey.

In the winter of 1849, the family has very little food. To celebrate the christening of their youngest child, Harald, Kristina prepares a large bowl of barley porridge and puts it into the basement to cool. Although told to wait, their eldest child, four-year-old Anna, helps herself to so much porridge that she becomes ill. Her parents send for Beata, a healing woman, but she says the girl's stomach has burst and she can't be saved. After Anna dies, Kristina agrees to leave with her husband for America.

As they prepare to emigrate, the young Nilssons are joined by Kristina's uncle and aunt, Danjel and Inga-Lena Andreasson and their four children. Danjel Andreasson is the pastor of a local conventicle of the Radical Pietistic Åkianer sect. He has suffered severe persecution by the established, state-controlled Church of Sweden. Andreasson is seeking religious freedom in the United States. His family is joined by Ulrika of Västergöhl, a former prostitute and member of the conventicle, who wants to start a new life with her illegitimate teenage daughter Elin. Andreasson is paying for passage of Ulrika and Elin, and also for Robert's friend Arvid, who worked for him as a farmhand. The last member of the party is Jonas Petter, a friend of Karl Oskar, who is fleeing an unhappy marriage.

The party sets off by wagon for the Swedish port city of Karlshamn, on the Baltic Sea, where they board the brig Charlotta, bound for New York City.


  • In a 1997 poll by Biblioteket i fokus ("Library in focus"), the series was ranked as the best Swedish book of the 20th century by 27,000 people.[1]
  • In a 1998 poll by Sveriges television, the series was ranked as the most important Swedish book of all time by 17,000 people.[2]


By 2013 the four novels in total had sold nearly two million copies in Sweden and were translated into more than twenty languages.[3]


In the late twentieth century, the series was adapted for other forms of representation: three films and musical theatre.

Two Swedish movies based on the books were released in the 1970s, starring Max Von Sydow and Liv Ullmann as Karl Oskar and Kristina:

  • The Emigrants (1971), adapted by Jan Troell, was based on the first two novels.
  • The New Land (1972) was a sequel based on the last two novels. Both were released in Swedish and subtitled in English.

A Swedish musical Kristina från Duvemåla (1990s) was based on the novels. It was created by former ABBA members Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson. It was successful in Sweden and abroad.[citation needed]

Another Swedish film adaptation was titled simply The Emigrants (2021). It starred Gustaf Skarsgård, Lisa Carlehed and Tove Lo. The screenplay was written by Siv Rajendram Eliassen and Anna Bache-Wiig, and it was directed by Erik Poppe.[4] It was released on digital platforms in August 2023.[5]


  1. ^ Results of the 1997 poll, Project Runeberg.
  2. ^ Results of the 1998 poll, Project Runeberg.
  3. ^ Moberg biography by JoAnn Hanson-Stone at the Swedish Emigrant Institute Archived 6 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ "The Emigrants (2021)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 6 September 2023.
  5. ^ Felperin, Leslie (26 July 2022). "The Emigrants review – gritty old-worlders make rewarding trek to American frontier". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 September 2023.

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