Title: My Antonia by Willa Cather
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin, 1918
Genre: American Classic Fiction
Setting: Early 20th century Nebraska
Where did you get it? Stolen from my 15 year old daughter’s bedroom
Why did you read it? It’s a classic I’d never read, and it was referenced in a book (I can’t remember which one, sorry!)
What’s it about? It’s a coming of age story set against the backdrop of the brutal and beautiful Nebraska plains. The hardships of immigrant families is a major theme. Jim Burden’s parents have died and he is being shipped off to his grandparents’ farm in Black Hawk, Nebraska. He meets Antonia Schimerda on a wagon taking them to the train station. The Schimerdas, recent immigrants from Bohemia, become their nearest neighbors. Jim develops strong feelings for Antonia, and the book, narrated by Jim, follows Antonia throughout her life.
What did you like? Everything. The descriptions of the landscape and the frontier life were vivid and captivating. I was swept up into the story from page 1.
What didn’t work for you? If you need a fast moving plot, this book wouldn’t be for you. It’s all about setting and characters. It’s almost dream-like. Teenagers might have a difficult time with the lack of action.
Share a quote or two: “Do you know, Àntonia, since I’ve been away, I think of you more often than of any one else in this part of the world. I’d have liked to have you for a sweetheart, or a wife, or my mother or my sister- anything that a woman can be to a man. The idea of you is a part of my mind; you influence my likes and my dislikes, all my tastes, hundreds of time when I don’t realize it. You really are a part of me.”
“The new country lay open before me: there were no fences in those days, and I could choose my own way over the grass uplands, trusting the pony to get me home again. Sometimes I followed the sunflower-bordered roads. Fuchs told me that the sunflowers were introduced into that country by the Mormons; that at the time of the persecution when they left Missouri and struck out into the wilderness to find a place where they could worship God in their own way, the members of the first exploring party, crossing the plains to Utah, scattered sunflower seeds as they went. The next summer, when the long trains of wagons came through with all the women and children, they had a sunflower trail to follow. I believe that botanists do not confirm Jake’s story but, insist that the sunflower was native to those plains. Nevertheless, that legend has stuck in my mind, and sunflower-bordered roads always seem to me the roads to freedom.”
Who would enjoy this book? Fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder would probably love it. Anyone with an affinity for beautiful prose or an interest in the pioneer days would enjoy My Antonia.
Who else has reviewed it?
Anything else to add? This is a book to treasure. It’s so beautiful and evocative, and so American, like a grown up version of Little House on the Prairie. I loved it! Not to be missed. But you’ll appreciate it more as an adult than as a teen. If you have to read it for school and you hate it, hang onto it and read it again in 20 years. Trust me on this.
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