It's the mid-nineteenth century in the rural parish of Ljuder, located in SmÃ¥land, Sweden. Young married couple Karl Oskar and Kristina are owner farmers, who, along with their neighbors have been having a difficult time of late because of lack of rain and poor soil, which has resulted in disastrous crops for several years. They can't feed themselves or their livestock. Kristina is despondent as they have several children, Kristina always seeming to be pregnant, and she doesn't see their lives ever getting any better. She is always praying to God for some redemption. Karl Oskar's younger brother, Robert, works as a farmhand for Aron. A romantic at heart, Robert lives in miserable conditions and is treated poorly by sadistic Aron. They don't see their lot in life getting any better in part because of the rigid class system in place. Even Kristina's uncle, Danjel, a highly devout man, is not allowed to spread the word of God, as that is solely the job of the wealthy ordained, which in his class Danjel will never become. Because of what Robert has read of America and because they have neighbors with relations who have already moved, Karl Oskar is eventually able to persuade Kristina to emigrate to pursue a better life, they not knowing that Robert was planning on running away to America anyway. Many of their neighbors and relations also decide to make the same journey, specifically planning on moving to Minnesota where they already know people. For those among them that survive the difficult journey, they will find that America may not be quite what they were expecting. In addition, some among their party may have ideas different than what was originally envisioned for the group as a collective.