Wednesday, February 15, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: My Antonia by Willa Cather


ABOUT THE BOOK (From Amazon):

Willa Cather's classic "My Antonia" is the story of the daughter of an immigrant family that sets out to farm the untamed prairie land of Nebraska in the late 19th century. Told to us from the perspective of the adoring Jim Burden, an orphan who comes to live at his grandparent's neighboring farm. "My Antonia" is an enduring American classic rich with the spirit that brought so many immigrants to this land in search of a better life and of the beautiful imagery of the midwestern plains. First published in 1918, Will Cather saw "My Antonia" as the best book that she had ever written and it is easy to see why, for it is nothing short of a masterpiece.

MY REVIEW:

I grew up in Nebraska and attended Willa Cather Elementary school, so I have always wanted to read a book by Willa Cather.  As I am slowly making my way through Moderns Library's 100 Best Novels, I found My Antonia on the list and selected it to read in January.

The story is told by the character Jim Burden, who moved from Virginia to live with his grandparents in a small farm community in Nebraska.  During that time period, migrants were coming to the area to farm the land.  At the beginning of the story we meet Antonia, who is the young daughter of a Bohemian family and throughout the story the reader watches Antonia grow up and experience hardships of a migrant girl. 

Although the story is primarily about Antonia, there are other important characters and storylines.  One of the major themes in the book is how the group of poor migrant girls in this community, working as farmhands, nannies and maids, grow up and where their paths lead each of them in life based on the choices they made in their late teens/early twenties.  Antonia is a sweet, hardworking girl, loved by all, and her fate is not what others expected of her. 

Yet, in the end, Antonia is where she wants to be.  There is a part at the end that I found very beautiful, when the narrator describes Antonia's appearance as an older woman: "I know so many women who have kept all the things she had lost, but whose inner glow has faded.  Whatever else was gone, Antonia had not lost the fire of her life.  Her skin, so brown and hardened, had not that look of flabbiness, as if the sap beneath it had been secretly drawn away." 

Willa Cather was known for her writing about frontier life and descriptive portraits of the Nebraska landscape.  It is also very interesting to read this book, 100 years after it was written, to understand the history of some of the farming community in the Great Plains. 

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