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My Antonia Paperback – September 21, 1995
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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
From the Back Cover
An enduring literary masterpiece first published in 1918, this hauntingly eloquent classic is an inspiring reminder of the rich past we have inherited. Willa Cather's lustrous prose, infused with a passion for the land, summons forth the hardscrabble days of the immigrant pioneer woman on the Nebraska plains, while etching a deeply moving portrait of an entire community. As Jim Burden revisits his childhood friendship with the free-spirited Antonia Shimerda, we come to understand the sheer fortitude of homesteaders on the prairie, the steadfast bonds cultivated there, and the abiding memories that such vast expanses inspire. Holding the pastoral society's heart, of course, is the bewitching Antonia, whose unfailing industry and infectious enthusiasm for life exemplify the triumphant vitality of an era.
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I have been reading Willa Cather novels in chronological order. This is the third of the so call Prairie Trilogy. I have found that these stories are not depended on each other and each can be read independently. I did enjoy all of them very much and am glad to have read all of them. I would say this is my favorite, however I liked all of them, and also particularly enjoyed "The Song Of The Lark". "The Song Of The Lark" is set in Colorado and the characters are different. It is markedly lengthier than "My Antonia".
I read this particular novel while at the same time listening to an audiobook narrated by Jeff Cummings. Antonia and others are native Europeans. Mr. Cummings was excellent and used accents that really added to my enjoyment of the reading experience. I feel I have a mediocre inner narrator and a professional narrator often adds to my personal reading enjoyment. However, Miss Cather carefully paints portraits of scenery with words. When I arrive at such a point, I stop and carefully read the words at my own pace and take my time to picture the landscape.
As a possible aside, I would like to mention that Willa Cather also authored one of the most poignant short stories that I have ever read. It is "Paul's Case". It is a short story, but it is not brief. It is set in Pittsburgh. Thank You.
The story was delightful to read, especially for one who came to the Midwest as a twelve year old German girl, who had to learn a new language, new customs, and make new friends.