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EXCERPTS FROM CHICAGO DREAMS

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Elsa Andersson was born in Vesene parish in Västergötland on August 3, 1898, the youngest of four siblings. Her older sister Ester was already eight years old when she was born, and her brothers Artur and Holger were four and two respectively. Elsa’s parents, Emma and Efraim, were farmers, and Elsa grew up on a farm of fifty-nine hectares, one of the largest in the village.

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The black-and-white steamship had been purchased from Scotland by the Swedish American Line and had been trafficking the Gothenburg-New York route for just over five years. Elsa had never seen the like and felt her courage evaporate. Gone was the plucky attitude she’d cultivated as the day her journey approached. This ship was at least twice as wide as the barn back home, and it was over three times as long.

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The view of Lake Michigan made the few square feet she had feel much larger. Laura had told her it was one of the biggest lakes in the world, ten times the size of Lake Vänern back home. If she pressed her nose to the windowpane, she could, if she put her mind to it, even catch a glimpse of the maple trees in the park.

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“Now we should go to the photographer! You have to send a photograph to your parents in your next letter, or they’ll never recognize you when you go home for a visit.”

Elsa was eager to have her picture taken—the studios in Chicago had so many beautiful backdrops to choose from—but she would never dare to send it home. If she ever went back to Sweden for a visit, she would make sure to grow her hair out first.

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Right next to the waiting room at Central Station is a bookshop. On a whim, Elsa goes inside. In the pile of items on special sale she finds what she’s looking for: a volume half-bound in imitation leather from Åhlén & Åkerlund. She pages through the slim book and finds that Ester has written not only about flappers but also Mrs. Myhrman and the family on Astor Street. What if there’s something about Elsa as well!

English translation by Rachel Willson-Broyles
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