My Antonia – Willa Cather

Posted 12 August, 2008 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 28 Comments

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Title: My Antonia
Author: Willa Cather
Date Finished: August 11, 2008 #46
Pages: 222
Rating: 3.5/5

I so want to like this book, I really really do. Ok, I do like this book. I so wanted to love this book, really really love it, but I didn’t. Maybe it’s because my last read, The God of Small Things, really captured my heart and attention and the language was so rich and filling, but this one fell a little flat for me. (Going to duck now while stones are thrown my way!). :)

My Antonia, as told by the narrator Jim Burden, is the story of growing up in a small settlement of Nebraska during the eighteen hundreds (the time period isn’t clear to me). After his parents pass away, young Jim travels from Virginia to Nebraska to live with his grandparents. On his journey West he meets the Shimerda family, poor Bohemian immigrants trying to make their American start in the Midwest. He befriends the family, particularly Antonia, and throughout the novel he outlines how Antonia affected his life from the time that they were children until they parted ways as adults.

Although it seems from the title that the book is mostly about Antonia, it is also about Jim as he matures from an innocent child into an educated and worldly man. It is an unassuming novel that gives a glimpse into the daily lives of the early pioneers and their struggles through the deadly cold weather, extreme poverty, and the roughness of the land. But through all of the hardships, there is also a strong sense of community that brought these unlikely friends together–through playing with each other during the summer days, teaching each other lessons, attending dances together, and most of all supporting one another through the heartaches and lonliness that is so prevalent in these pioneers’ lives.

Antonia is a wonderful character–strong willed but also compassionate, she is full of life and has touched Jim’s life in so many different ways. I wish I could have gotten to know Antonia a little better, but Antonia and Jim were destined for very different lives as she stayed in the frontier as he outgrew the wilderness for a more refined existence. Due to a life changing experience when Antonia is young, she is forced to work the land and give up her education so that she can provide for her younger siblings and hope that they can have a better life. Because Jim’s situation is very different from Antonia’s their lives begin to diverge at a young age and most of the middle of the book moves away from Antonia and the story she and Jim share.

While this was a very pleasant read and I loved loved loved Cather’s descriptions of Nebraska throughout all of the different changes of season, it was a little less climactic than I was hoping for or expecting. And even though this book is about the relationships of the different characters I kept wishing that I knew more about each one. I think maybe part of the Jim’s allure of Antonia, though, is her elusiveness and uniqueness–maybe qualities that he does not quite understand but is trying to capture in his thoughts. It is clear that he cares very deeply for Antonia but in many ways she remains a mystery. I want more, Ms. Cather, than the 220 pages that you have given us!!

Have you read it? What did you think? Do you have another pioneer story you’d recommend?

They read it too:
Framed at Framed and Booked
Chris at book-a-rama

28 Responses to “My Antonia – Willa Cather”

  1. I have not read My Antonia, but I did read O’ Pioneers. And I really really enjoyed it. The only way I could describe Cather’s writing in it was sparse, but the story was great, and you are right. The descriptions of the land was beautiful. Maybe I liked it because the protagonist was female. For some reason, I’m usually happier with books with a female lead.

    I really need to read The God of Small Things!

  2. I read this book in high school but have zero recollection of it. I’ve recently bought it for my home library with the intention of someday reading it. Hmm . . . another pioneer story? How about Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson? It’s YA with a great female lead.

  3. Even though this wasn’t your favorite, your description REALLY makes me want to read it! Since I just bought it at the library sale, I might have to switch it out in one of my challenges. I love pioneer stories! I think you should read Little House on the Prairie (all the while thinking that these are real people!) ;)

  4. My Antonia was one of my book club’s favorites. We all loved it. Your comments are about it are all spot on, but we saw all of that as part of what makes the book work so well.

    And we all liked that the girls in the story all turned out to have such good lives.

  5. *Stephanie – I read O’ Pioneers in High School and don’t really remember much about it–except watching the movie with Anne Heche. I like female leads as well–and I’m not sure Antonia could be called a lead in this book but she is a great character anyway!

    *Natasha – Thanks for the suggestion! I actually got this book from you. ;) I hope you enjoy it–it is a very pleasant read, I just wanted more!

    *Laura – I think you would definitely like this one–and I think you should swap this out for David Copperfield. :) I promise I won’t tell anyone…

    *Joy – Thanks!! I may read that for the NFF instead of one of my other choices.

    *CB – I can see how this would be a favorite–I think my book club members would like it as well (most of them anyway). I would have loved to discuss this one with a group. And I, too, loved that all the women had such great lives. I particularly liked Lena.

  6. I’ve always heard this title and never had a clue what it was about! People made it sound boring but you’ve done the opposite- even though it didn’t wow you. I do like pioneer stories and haven’t read one in a while. I think I’ll put My Antonia on my list. Nice review!

  7. Oh, I loved this book. I read it in seventh grade and stayed up til like 3 in the morning, sobbing over the ending. LOL

    If you want an interesting pioneer read, I’d recommend author Rose Wilder Lane (yup, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s daughter!). I recently read Free Land, and it was a great look at pioneer life.

  8. Oh, Trish, I haven’t read this book since High School (MANY, many years ago), but it made me want to nail my head to the table.

    Since then, I keep hearing praise upon praise for this book, but I just couldn’t bear the thought of going through it again.

  9. Kya

    I meant to mention that I read Death Comes to the Archbishop not too long ago. It’s a small book but covers a lot of territory and is very different from My Antonia.

  10. *Jeane – Ha! I’m glad. I didn’t find this one boring, but it definitely wasn’t action-packed either. And people really like it–so, yes, put it on your list! I hope you like it, too.

    *Stephanie – Sobbing because you found it sad? Or sobbing because you found it touching? Thanks for the recommendation–I haven’t read any Little House books but I’ve heard they are really good and I didn’t realize Laura Ingalls’s daughter wrote a book as well.

    *Bellezza – It’s a pretty short read, though. It’s funny how a book can have such a lasting effect on a person! I don’t think I would have liked this one in high school either.

  11. *Kya – I hadn’t heard of Death Comes to the Archbishop until recently, but I’ll definitely have to put it on the list. Have you read any of Cather’s other books?

    *Nari – I read O’Pioneers in high school but don’t really have any memories of it. I’ll have to check it out again. If you liked that one I’d think you’d like this one as well.

    *Jeanette – I haven’t heard of One of Ours (I love this blogging! Always finding out about new things!). Have you read My Antonia? What did you think of it?

  12. I sobbed due to both reasons. Antonia had so much potential, and their friendship was so wonderful, and then…Sigh. There was a movie made a few years back, with Neil Patrick Harris as the male lead. :)

  13. Well, we don’t all love the same stories and I think that’s a great thing. It’s just one more thing that makes us individuals. Having said that, I did love My Antonia and consider it one of my all-time favorites. Apart from the Little House books and a set of letters I recently read, I can’t say I’ve read all that many pioneer stories, but I’m hoping to read more.

  14. Kya

    I haven’t read any other Willa Cather and I’m not sure why Death Comes to the Archbishop appealed to me. I had an impression of Cather as a “fuddy duddy” and of course impressions aren’t always true.

  15. *Stephanie – Ha ha–seems like you need to read it again. I love books that have that lasting affect!! I still feel that way about Wuthering Heights even though it has been almost 10 years since I’ve read it.

    *Bookfool – I know we all can’t love the same things but I do wish I had liked this one a little bit more. When you hear such praise for a book its hard not to have high expections. Oh–and I have the book of letters you read a few weeks ago on my list already–sounds like such a great book!

    *Kya – I haven’t read enough of her stuff to know whether she is a fuddy duddy or not. But, the characters in this book aren’t very wild–pretty reserved. I’ll have to check out Death Comes to the Archbishop!

  16. I know how a great read can sometimes “spoil” whatever you pick up next for you. I haven’t read My Antonia (or anything else by Willa Cather), but I’ve been curious about it and her work in general for some time…I’ll get to it eventually.

  17. I do really love My Antonia. It was one of the first classics that I read that really stuck with me as a late teenager.

    Another pioneer story I liked:

    These is My Words by Nancy E. Turner (she’s a settler in Arizona territory – it’s written in diary format and the follow up is awesome too)

  18. *Robby – Was it the end of the “era” that made you cry? I’m pretty sentimental as well but no tears for me. I’m glad you really enjoyed it–as time passes I think of this one more fondly.

    *Nymeth – Haha–is that “you” personal or general? :) Sometimes yes it does–and The God of Small Things was a phenomenal read for me. Now that some time has passed (wow I’m behind!), I like this one a little better.

    *Michelle – I read O’Pioneers in High School and remember nothing. :) I think maybe we just had other things on our mind!

    *Corinne – Thanks for the suggestion! I’ll definitely have to check it out. I’ve always loved Pioneer stories. I have a few family members that were early settlers in Utah (I don’t believe they came over on the trail, but I could be wrong), and I always love hearing the stories–even stories of my grandma growing up in a small southern Utah settlement.

  19. Trish – WHAT a coincidence, I have that same family history! I’ve got one relative I know of who crossed the plains with the Mormons as a teen and she wrote a book about her experiences. They settled in Utah too :)

    Very cool!

  20. Corinne – Wow–is your relative’s book available? I have my great-great grandmother’s journal, but to be honest it is very difficult to read (the handwriting mostly–but also because it’s a fascimile). I’ve always been so fascinated by the pioneers.

  21. I agree with your description that this fell a little flat. Willa Cather is my dad’s favorite author and he’s been trying to get me to read her books for years. My book club is doing this one in December, so a couple months ago I finally read it. It was okay. I think she writes well. But it didn’t capture me. My dad says it’s not her best work, that I should read Death Comes for the Archbishop.

    I reviewed this book over at my group book review blog, 5-Squared.

  22. *Amanda – I’ve heard that Death Comes for the Archbishop is a really good one as well. I did read O Pioneers in high school but remember very little about it (except watching the movie afterward with Anne Heche). I wish I had liked this one better!