O River, Remember!, by Martha Ostend
Review by Maureen Theobald
(New York: Dodd Mead, 1943)
Once again, Martha Ostenso has managed to take me into another era, another time and place that makes me crave the simple, but extremely rich life she writes of with such precision. In this classically told story of “power and greed” verses “purpose and good,” Ostenso introduces us to a family dealing with those conflicting agendas under their own roof. Magdali marries Ivar Vingue, and agrees to join him in Northwest Minnesota, in the Red River Valley. Having come from a fairly prosperous farm family in Wisconsin, Magdali is driven and hard-working to a fault. Her quest for power and money is at odds with Ivar’s genuine love of the land and his altruistic nature. They raise a family of five children, each struggling through their lives having to please Magdali, and being controlled by her overbearing personality. Ivar’s tolerance of her and her equally greedy brother is always for the sake of his beloved children and farm. Paralleling his difficult marriage is the constant, and ultimately life-long, love of a beautiful woman who he knows and accepts he can never have.
The story is rich with details and situations involving the Vinge children and their lives as they grow into adulthood, under the constant cloud of Magdali, but fortunately, having their loving father to turn to when she becomes unbearable.
After decades of hurt caused mainly by Magdali’s need for control, healing comes when her great nephew meets up with the great niece of the woman Magdali despised throughout her life. Norma Shaleen is the great niece of Kate Shaleen, the secret love of Ivar’s life. He took the secret to his grave, suffering silently, as was his nature. Brill Wing (Wing being the name that Magdali eventually chose to replace the more immigrant-sounding and embarrassing name of Vinge), and Norma Shaleen return to the farm years later to try and unravel the bits and pieces of the stories handed down through the generations. What they find are the fascinating tales of the two pioneer families, the Wings and the Shaleens, and how the love they have found together will finally bring years of misunderstandings to an end once and for all.