My Ántonia by Willa Cather
Overall Rating: 4.5
Quick summary: When Jim Burton’s parents die he is sent from his home in Virginia to the Nebraska prairie to live with his grandparents. His nearest neighbor is Antonia, another child new to the difficulties of farm life. As he and Antonia grow up, they discover the simple joys and heartaches in America’s heartland.
This is a literary classic that is an American pastoral. Cather extolls the virtues of farming, hard work, and the pioneering spirit of immigrants. This novel is especially poignant now that we’ve gotten so far from those first Americans who tamed the prairies to grow corn and wheat. Some may find the descriptive passages a little boring, but if you think of them as analogies for Jim’s emotional state and his relationship with Antonia, it might make them more interesting.
While there are compelling arguments to make about Native Americans and patriarchy, this is a fine example of feminist writing. Cather takes a male narrator and chronicles the immigrant girls who become women as strong, flawed characters who defy simply stereotypes. Jim himself experiences a near rape, as he is mistaken for a woman, and is ashamed and embarrassed. And Jim himself acknowledges the double standard to which women are held. The female immigrants in this novel work hard at farming, going so far as to get jobs in town when doing so caused people to question their virtue. They make sacrifices few town women would make so they can see their younger siblings have a more comfortable life.
But more than that, what I love about this novel is that it gets at the dichotomies that make up the truth of life, the bitter sweetness of love. The closing scenes explain so eloquently the way we live in the present alongside the past. It has beautiful lessons that still speak to me today, which is the hallmark of any work of classic literature.
Is it worth buying? (Kindle FREE)
I think it goes without saying that if a book is free, and I’ve given it a 4.5 rating, you should “buy” it.
Something else you might enjoy:
If you’d like a more traditional literary romance, and by that I mean you want a marriage at the end of the novel, try Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. It too is about a boy and a girl who grow up together and learn some difficult lessons as they realize the constraints of society. It is also free as an ebook.