- Paperback: 170 pages
- Publisher: Cather Press (October 27, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1619492776
- ISBN-13: 978-1619492776
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.4 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars See all reviews (134 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #185,641 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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<DIV>"A direct, human tale of love and struggle and attainment -- American in the best sense of the word." --New York Times The New York Times</div>
About the Author
<DIV>Born in Virginia in 1873 and raised on a Nebraska ranch, Willa Cather is known for her beautifully evocative short stories and novels about the American West. Cather became the managing editor for McClure’s Magazine in 1906 and lived for forty years in New York City with her companion Edith Lewis. In 1922 Cather won the Pulitzer Prize for One of Ours, the story of a Western boy in World War I. In 1933 she was awarded the Prix Femina Americaine “for distinguished literary accomplishments.” She died in 1947.
Photo: AKG London </div>
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Top Customer Reviews
Honestly, I don't recall hearing Cather's name before which is a shock as well. I must say that I will be looking into more of her writings in the future.
Originally published in 1913, "The book takes place on the plains of Nebraska in the late 19th Century as the Prairie is settled by Swedish, Bohemian, and French immigrants trying to eke out a living from what appears to be a harsh, inhospitable land. The heroine of the book is Alexandra Bergson who inherits her father's farm as a young woman, raises his three sons and stays with the farm through the harsh times to become a successful landowner and farmer. The book speaks of being wedded to the land and to place. In this sense it is an instance of the American dream of a home. It also speaks of a strong woman, not a cliched, late 20th Century terms but with a sense of ambiguity, difficulty and loss. This is a story as well of thwarted love, of the difficult nature of sexuality, and of human passion. There is also the beginning of what in Cather's works will become and increased sense of religion, Catholicism in particular, as a haven and a solace for the sorrow she finds at the heart of human endeavor. Above all it is a picture of stark life in the Midwest. There is almost as much blood-letting in this short book as in an Elizabethan tragedy. Cather's picture of American life on the plains, even in her earliest books, is not an easy or simple one, however, "O Pioneers" is a thoughtful, well written story of immigrant life on the plains and of the sorrow pain, and strength of the American experience." (Amazon description)
From the very beginning, I was struck by Cather's descriptions. Listen to this, the SECOND sentence. "A mist of fine snowflakes was curling and eddying about the cluster of low drab buildings huddled on the gray prairie, under a gray sky." Can't you just see it?! Do you feel the icy cold of the snow?
Her descriptions continue throughout, a wonderful addition to the story. I have a lot of admiration for Alexandra. She is a strong girl, an adoring older sister to Emil, and a good daughter. I was quite surprised by some events in this book, but it's hard to review this book and not give away spoilers, so I think I will end with just a few of the quotes that I loved, and the recommendation to read it if you are at all interested in the history of our country, or of the west.
"A pioneer should have imagination, should be able to enjoy the idea of things more than the things themselves."
"People have to snatch at happiness when they can, in the world. It is always easier to lose than to find. What I have is yours, if you care enough about me to take it."
"We come and go, but the land is always here. And the people who love it and understand it are the people who own it - for a little while."
The story does move rather slow at times; who am I kidding, it's a quick read.
I recommend this book to everyone ages 11+.
O Pioneers! is set near the town of Hanover in a region of Nebraska known as the Divide. The story begins in the 1880s (“thirty years ago”). The Bergsons are a family of Swedish immigrants who have come to the region to farm this land, but like many of their neighbors they have found the soil an inhospitable host. When the father dies, he designates his daughter Alexandra to run the farm after his passing, as he judges her more capable for the task than her brothers. Given the family’s lack of agricultural success, Alexandra is faced with a tough choice: stay and work this hard land in hopes that the family’s efforts will pay off, or sell out and move on to greener pastures.
Upon reading the opening section of the book, I was worried that it might be a young adult novel along the lines of Little Women. As the story begins, all of the main characters are children, but the narrative soon jumps ahead 16 years and disproves any fears of juvenility. Through beautifully naturalistic prose, Cather relates the farming life of these settlers and their relationship with the land. It’s not all soil tilling and crop yields, however. Rest assured that the book’s primary focus is human relationships. Cather offers up an ensemble cast of characters, and the reader soon becomes deeply involved in their hopes and heartbreaks. For much of the book’s length, there are forebodings of doom on the horizon, but for the most part it is a novel of everyday lives and the choices people make. Some may describe the plot of the story or the lives of the characters as “simple,” but that would be an erroneous assessment. This is a powerful book that proceeds with quiet dignity. Cather uses prairie life as a microcosm by which to elucidate insights into universal human nature. At a time when American literature was largely confined to the spheres of New York, Boston, and San Francisco, Cather proved that gripping drama and powerful emotion could be drawn from the soil of America’s heartland.
Stylistically, the book represents a period when naturalism was just about to turn the corner into modernism. On the surface Cather’s prose is straightforward and descriptive fare, similar to that of Hamlin Garland—another regionalist master—but bubbling up between the lines is a deeper understanding of psychological and philosophical themes. Here you won’t find the verbal gymnastics of William Faulkner, but you will find something akin to the dramatic power of his rural sagas. Cather is such a master of the English language that there are very few scenes from which one can’t pluck some quotable nugget about life, love, or man’s relationship to nature.
I’m a sucker for a good peasant epic, from Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth to Knut Hamsun’s Growth of the Soil, and Cather’s O Pioneers! ranks among the top exemplars of the genre. Any discussion of The Great American Novel should at least include an honorable mention for this great entry. I haven’t read Cather’s work in years, but after rereading O Pioneers! I’m eager to take a second look at the rest of the Prairie Trilogy.