Book Review: My Antonia by Willa Cather (and Mr. Linky for challenge reviews)

myantonia2Title: My Antonia
Author: Willa Cather
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: Dover
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from my personal library
First line: Last summer I happened to be crossing the plains of Iowa in a season of intense heat, and it was my good fortune to have for a traveling companion James Quayle Burden – Jim Burden, as we still call him in the West.

Goodreads blurb: One of Cather’s earliest novels β€” written in 1918 β€” is the story of Antonia Shimerda, who arrives on the Nebraska frontier as part of a family of Bohemian emigrants. In quiet, probing depth, the story commemorates the spirit and courage of the immigrant pioneers whose persistence and strength helped to build America.

My Antonia is considered an American classic, and the honor is much deserved. Willa Cather has written a simple yet beautiful story about a fiercely strong woman who embodies the spirit of the Midwest. Though the title belongs to Antonia, her story is told by Jim Burden, a young man and neighbor who spends his life halfway in love with her.

Cather is a master at writing description, giving the reader just enough detail to thrust him or her into the world of the novel, where the characters become known…

Grandfather’s prayers were often very interesting. He had the gift of simple and moving expression. Because he talked so little, his words had a peculiar force; they were not worn dull from constant use. His prayers reflected what he was thinking about at the time, and it was chiefly through them that we got to know his feelings and his views about things. ~ p. 43

…and the setting is felt.

The snow did not fall this time, it simply spilled out of heaven, like thousands of feather-beds being emptied. ~ p. 46

As I read this book, I was continually moved by how amazingly hard and brutal the lives of women were in the Midwest of the early 20th century. The amount of work performed, especially by the women who immigrated most recently, was staggering. I never would have survived back then! I was also surprised by the amount of prejudice that existed against the immigrant families. It was subtle, but it still existed, and it was simply understood that the “local” boys would not marry any of the immigrant girls.

I am glad that such a worthy and wonderful read kicked off our “I’ve Always Meant to Read That Book!” Challenge year, and I hope that many of you enjoyed it as well.

For those of you who have also read My Antonia this month, please leave a link to your review in the Mr. Linky. If you don’t have a blog, feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

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17 Responses to Book Review: My Antonia by Willa Cather (and Mr. Linky for challenge reviews)

  1. Karen says:

    I read this book while we lived in Nebraska (8-10 years ago). While I remember very little about the plot, I do remember having some of the same thoughts as you. The book really drew me in; there was no way I could stop reading, because I cared so much for the characters that I had to finish their stories.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Karen – I bet living in the setting would have added so much to the reading experience!

  2. bermudaonion(Kathy)
    Twitter: bermudaonion

    It is amazing how much the women before us worked. I get exhausted just thinking about all my grandmother did. This book sounds excellent!

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Kathy – I do, too – it’s no wonder they died so much younger than we do!

  3. Jeane says:

    I have been thinking I should really read this one. Wonderful review.

  4. hillarypat says:

    I really enjoyed this book! It was a great way to start the challenge! I’m a little nervous about Bleak House but I am determined to finish it on time!

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Hillary – I’m getting a bit nervous, too, because my copy hasn’t arrived yet!

      • hillarypat says:

        Oh no! With a book like Bleak House you need it on time! I checked out my copy from the library so I have it for a few weeks. I hope it arrives soon!

  5. Ann says:

    I really enjoyed reading My Antonia.

  6. Sandy
    Twitter: youvegottaread

    This is also on my “always meant to read” list. I’m so bad with classics. I had to chuckle a little because my kids always tell me they could imagine me pioneering the wild, with a hatchet in my hands, killing our next meal. Not sure what that really says about their opinion of me, but it cracks me up. Not sure I could keep up with Antonia though.

  7. Beth Hoffman says:

    I often like to read a book that reminds me of how blessed I am to live in this era of convenience, and also, how much I admire my ancestors who cut the road before me. This is exactly the kind of book I’m in the mood to read.

  8. Susan says:

    So glad you read this book. It’s such a subtle novel yet good one! I want to reread it sometime; it’s been a long while.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Susan – I’m glad I read it, too – it was a good way to kick off the challenge.