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My Ántonia (Oxford World's Classics) Paperback – February 15, 2009

4.3 out of 5 stars 698 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

It seems almost sacrilege to infringe upon a book as soulful and rich as Willa Cather's My Ántonia by offering comment. First published in 1918, and set in Nebraska in the late 19th century, this tale of the spirited daughter of a Bohemian immigrant family planning to farm on the untamed land ("not a country at all but the material out of which countries are made") comes to us through the romantic eyes of Jim Burden. He is, at the time of their meeting, newly orphaned and arriving at his grandparents' neighboring farm on the same night her family strikes out to make good in their new country. Jim chooses the opening words of his recollections deliberately: "I first heard of Ántonia on what seemed to be an interminable journey across the great midland plain of North America," and it seems almost certain that readers of Cather's masterpiece will just as easily pinpoint the first time they heard of Ántonia and her world. It seems equally certain that they, too, will remember that moment as one of great light in an otherwise unremarkable trip through the world.

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 the Kindle Edition edition.

From School Library Journal

Grade 7 Up--In Jim Burden's accounting of his life with, and without, Antonia Shimerda, listeners are transported to the hardscrabble Nebraska prairie and the rural immigrant experience. When Jim first sees the Shimerda family, immigrants from Bohemia, disembarking from the same train that is taking him West to live with his grandparents, he has no idea the impact they will have on his life. Nostalgically, he remembers the good and bad times they had on their respective farms and creates his portrait of Antonia, an independent and tough survivor. The brief biography of author Willa Cather at the beginning of the CD explains how her life mirrors Antonia's life in many ways, helping listeners understand the context of the story. Patrick Lawlor's rich, fluid voice lends an air of sophistication to Burden, reinforcing the class structure inherent at the beginning of the 20th century. Lawlor's attempts to create voices for the characters often falls flat. Since the novel is Burden's reminiscence, it would have been better told in Burden's voice alone. Since My Antonia continues to be a staple in many English curriculums, this is a good audiobook for schools and public libraries to have available.--Lynn Evarts, Sauk Prairie High School, Prairie du Sac, WA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Kindle Edition edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (February 15, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019953814X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199538140
  • Product Dimensions: 7.7 x 0.6 x 5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (698 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,002,008 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
When Willa Cather was writing "My Antonia," she visited her friend, the journalist and war correspondent Elizabeth Sergeant, grabbed an old apothecary jar filled with flowers, set it in the center of an antique table, and explained: "I want my new heroine to be like this--like a rare object in the middle of a table, which one may examine from all sides. . . . I want her to stand out--like this--like this--because she is the story."

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.
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Format: Paperback
When I went to write the review of Cather's work, I was surprised to find that most of the reviews were written by high school students who were required to read the book. The strengths of "My Antonia", in my opinion, would not be obvious to most teenagers. Taken at face value, as a fictional story of the struggles of Bohemian immigrants to the mid-west, the story has merits which probably underlie its popularity among secondary teachers.
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.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
In 1882, when author Willa Cather was nine years-old, her family left their home in Back Creek Valley, Virginia, and moved to Nebraska, near the settler country in Red Cloud where they farmed a homestead. Ms. Cather, often thought of as a chronicler of the pioneer American West, frequently drew on her memories of prairie culture and her own personal experiences. She wrote about the themes closest to her heart. Of primary importance was the drama of the immigrant struggling to survive in a new world, epitomized here in "My Antonia." In this extraordinary novel, Miss Cather weaves together the story of Antonia Shimerda, an immigrant girl from Bohemia who represents the optimism, determination and pure grit that newcomers to America needed to make a successful life, and that of American-born Jim Burden, our narrator.

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.
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Format: Paperback
I first read this book when I was in junior high school. I admit that, at the time, I did not appreciate the strengths of the book and the quality of its writing. I am quite glad that I decided to give it another chance, as I now understand why it is considered to be a classic in literature. It is simply a beautifully written book, covering many of the themes that one stumbles across in life and coalescing them into a work of extraordinary breadth.

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.
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