© 1918 Willa Cather
An orphaned young boy and a young girl from another country arrive together in the Nebraska prairie, forging a friendship from their shared status as strangers in a new land despite their difficulties in communicating. They will play and work together, often butting heads and eventually taking different paths – but the past, and their love for the land, bind them. This is a story written from the rearview, as the adult boy – Jim Burden – is looking back on his life after a recent visit back home to see what remained of his childhood. Precious little, as it turns out: he grew up in a Nebraska so frontier that some of its homesteaders still live in sod homes, and the future city of Black Hawk was a far humbler town. Burden’s memoir details the little stories that made up the lives of he and his friends – adventures involving snakes, and the quiet tragedy of suicide. These stories take place against a rich background, that of the prairies. Having never been to Nebraska, I must admit that my mental imagining of it is fairly superficial, thing that resembles more an illustration on a milk carton than a place where people actually live. Cather, though, paints such beautiful descriptions of the land and changing skies that one has to read them several times – the first to know what’s there, the second and third time to savor the details. Not as dramatic as Ed Abbey’s descriptions of the Southwest, but more intense in the smaller details. One particularly powerful passage describes the Sun and Moon as two luminaries, hanging in opposition – making the personal drama happening at the same time, Jim engaged in earnest conversation with Antonia, even more resonant. Although I found the first parts of the story interesting, it wasn’t until Jim drew closer toward adulthood, and the diverging paths of he and his friends became more important, that I was totally sucked into the story — and never more than when Jim made his return to Black Hawk to see his Ántonia one more time. Quite stirring on all fronts.
“My Antonia at 100“, Front Porch Republic
Oh, I didn’t realize this novel was under 200 pages. It sounds very nostalgic! My mom and sister read it and thought it was good, but I have never heard anyone really “rave” about it or call it a pageturner… this might be the first time. 🙂
I think it may vary on the reader’s experiences — in my case, his evolving love for Antonia (friendship, unfulfilled but not unrequited romantic affection, then still-deeper friendship) mirrored my own experiences with a good friend….and she and I, like Jim and Antonia, were partially linked by love for the particular landscape we grew up in.
Although I have little memory of the plot, I listed this as five star/personal canon particularly bc of Cather’s writing style. It is naturally beautiful. She is like a Bierstadt painting. 🙂
Oh, my! Thanks for naming the painter. I’d seen some of his work before but never knew the name or the artist or any of his pieces.