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My Ántonia (Dover Thrift Editions) Paperback – Unabridged, October 21, 1994
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Ántonia, who, even as a grown woman somewhat downtrodden by circumstance and hard work, "had not lost the fire of life," lies at the center of almost every human condition that Cather's novel effortlessly untangles. She represents immigrant struggles with a foreign land and tongue, the restraints on women of the time (with which Cather was very much concerned), the more general desires for love, family, and companionship, and the great capacity for forbearance that marked the earliest settlers on the frontier.
As if all this humanity weren't enough, Cather paints her descriptions of the vastness of nature--the high, red grass, the road that "ran about like a wild thing," the endless wind on the plains--with strokes so vivid as to make us feel in our bones that we've just come in from a walk on that very terrain ourselves. As the story progresses, Jim goes off to the University in Lincoln to study Latin (later moving on to Harvard and eventually staying put on the East Coast in another neat encompassing of a stage in America's development) and learns Virgil's phrase "Optima dies ... prima fugit" that Cather uses as the novel's epigraph. "The best days are the first to flee"--this could be said equally of childhood and the earliest hours of this country in which the open land, much like My Ántonia, was nothing short of a rhapsody in prairie sky blue. --Melanie Rehak --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
From School Library Journal
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
This anecdote (recounted in James Woodress's biography of Cather) sums up almost exactly the technique that makes her novel both unique and unusual. Instead of writing the story from her heroine's point of view, or from the point of view of an omniscient narrator, Cather instead creates a bystander, the likeable and somewhat innocent Jim Burden, who has written down a series of memories where his and Antonia's lives intersect; "My Antonia" is a biography through the mask of autobiography. While this is Jim's story as much as it is Antonia's (she is barely mentioned at all in Book III), we are ultimately studying a much-loved thing of beauty from "all sides"--from the distance separating it and the observer.
Although "My Antonia" relates a number of exciting, sentimental, horrifying, and even scandalous incidents (none of which will be divulged here), Cather very deliberately chose to write a character novel rather than an action story. Many of the book's pivotal "events" happen offstage; we learn what has happened only when Jim hears about Antonia or runs into her at a gathering or stops by her home. Such a detached approach is a departure from that used by many of the American naturalists (e.g., Dreiser, Lewis) writing during this period, yet her book is surely a model of realism.Read more ›
However, that is not what makes this book special. Simply put, both the characters and setting of this novel are beautiful. Cather clearly loved the land she was writing about, and her passion for the farm country of her youth flowed through her writings. Her narrator, Jim, reveals the life of the immigrant Antonia, his childhood friend. Though most of the book is about their childhood together, it is written from Jim's view as an adult. This is tremendously important, as Jim's observations are clearly bear a mark of maturity that would be out-of-place if the book were written from the point-of-view of a child. Perhaps this is what many teenagers miss. Few of them have experienced the profound bittersweet feelings adults have when looking back upon their youth. These emotions were entwined through the novel from beginning to end, forming a scaffold upon which the story was told. To miss them is to miss everything that makes this novel great, rather than just historical fiction.
Burden, a successful and cultured East-coast lawyer, is returning to his childhood home in Blackhawk, Nebraska for a visit. On the long train ride, he reminisces with an unnamed friend about the place where they had both grown up and about the people they knew - especially their dear friend Antonia, "who seemed to mean to us the country, the conditions, the whole adventure of our childhood."
When young Jim Burden was orphaned at age ten, he left his native Virginia to live with his grandparents on their farm, just outside of Blackhawk. At almost the same time that Jim arrived, the Shimerda family settled on their land. Mrs. Shimerda had argued effectively for a move to America so that the children, especially Ambrosch, the eldest son, would have the chance to make a better life for themselves, with more possibilities of moving up in the social hierarchy and of acquiring wealth. The Bohemian newcomers were the Burden's closest neighbors.Read more ›
The book is the story of two young people, Jim Burden and Antonia Shimerda. They meet for the first time when Jim is ten years old and Antonia is fourteen. Recently orphaned, Jim has moved to the Great Prairie to live with his grandparents in Nebraska. Antonia, on the other hand, has been wrenched from her homeland in Bohemia, emigrating with her parents to the United States and finding herself in Nebraska. Jim and Antonia's chance encounter on a train sets the stage for the forging of a friendship and unconditional love that time will not diminish.
The book relates the harshness of immigrant life through the eyes of Jim, who narrates the events contained in the book. There is a relentless stoicism about the book, which is written in spare, clear prose. With intense imagery and descriptive exactitude, late nineteenth century Nebraska comes to life. It also relates the paths that each of the characters choose to follow, as well as the vicissitudes of life that mold and shape them in ways that no one would have imagined.
The focus of the book, which is also a coming of age tale, seems to be on the female characters and their strengths. Consequently, the book has a faintly feminist undercurrent to it, as all the women in it seem to be survivors, despite the hardships that they encounter.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Willa Cather makes her character come alive. It is a refreshing history of how our country was settled and how neighbors helped each other regardless of ethnic backgrounds or... Read morePublished 6 days ago by Rita Lucey
Very interesting, well written - a fastening look into the past. A+Published 13 days ago by Fine Weather
I have read this book a number of times throughout my life. It is a rich story of American life and each time I read it, I find it is a new book with different things to think... Read morePublished 25 days ago by Avid Listener
Chosen for our book club's monthly read by our own native Nebraskan, this colorful old story was a nice escape into my grandparents' past. Read morePublished 1 month ago by joanne helen
I do a lot of driving and enjoyed the story on a 6 hour drive to my daughter's home. It kept me interested the entire journey.Published 1 month ago by Catherine
I have read this book at least 10 times and I never get tired of it. The writing is so beautiful, the images the writing evokes are so vivid, and the story is so beautiful, that it... Read morePublished 2 months ago by nros
The Language, the imagery, the story all roll across those Midwestern plains effortlessly but magically.Published 2 months ago by wilma claudia sukman