So, way back in the very beginning of this blog (almost two years! Which is crazy), I told Dave that I would never, ever read My Antonia by Willa Cather. See here for Dave’s explanation of the situation.
In my defense, during college, I never personally had to read a Cather book. Which was weird in retrospect, since I was an English major at a small school in Seward, Nebraska. But it happened. Anyway, I never had to read one but plenty of my classmates did. That weren’t English majors. Who weren’t readers. And what do non-readers being forced to read a classic do when it’s time to write a paper? They go to their English major friends. I _thought_ My Antonia was one of these. But, I have since figured out it was O Pioneers by Willa Cather, that I would have to read stultifying boring sections of to help my friends write their papers.
When I was in the library on Tuesday, I thought, “You know, I’m going to just -look- at the Willa Cather books. I’m just going to check out My Antonia and -glance- through it”. From the second chapter, I knew I was about to have to eat a whole, whole lot of crow.
I loved it. I read it in approximately 36 hours, which I do on a regular basis with books, but usually -not- one of the ones for here. If you have been a reader for awhile, you might remember my time spent with Les Miserables (to be fair, that book is hellaciously long and very dry in some spots. I believe it took even Dave longer than his average 24 hours per book. This is not an exaggeration).
My Antonia has so much in it. The main character who narrates the book in first person is a young boy, approximately age 10 who moves from Virginia to Nebraska. He does this due to the death of his parents, his grandparents are in Nebraska, so off he went. When he is on the train, a train official talks about the Bohemian family in the next carriage. He especially mentions a girl close to Jake’s age. Jake feels embarrassed by this and doesn’t go to the next carriage. He does see the family as they leave and get into the other wagon waiting at the station.
The story involves Jake’s friendship with Antonia, the Bohemian girl close to him in age. They live near his grandparents and later when they are older, she is next door to him in town for awhile. He admires Antonia, or feels exasperated by her, or disgusted by her “airs” that she has at one point. Their friendship goes through some pretty normal changes for two friends in which one (Antonia) is a couple of years older than the other one. They both grow up and the story mostly ends when Jake is 21, except the very end is twenty years later.
Cather populates her book with real characters. None of them feel like caricatures. They all feel like people you could have known if you were around back then. Hollywood and popular fiction have given us so many caricatures of Western settlers over the years that it was definitely a change to not be able to pick out certain types.
I would give you quotes from the book, but I was so into it that I didn’t even stop to look for anything.
Cather writes a child narrator growing up beautifully. I feel she led him through an aging procession, a maturing process beautifully. Also, for her to do this with a child narrator of the opposite sex from herself, and to do it so well, took my breath away.
I am definitely glad that reading My Antonia was not the experience of the DaVinci Code, where a book was so hyped and when finally read turned out to be crap.
I do think this is a book I could find myself re-reading at some point and loving just as much. It’s definitely not a very hard classic to read and very accessible language wise.
Consider this my big plate of crow, and for having read My Antonia, I’m happy to be swallowing the feathers.
OH! The following authors listed My Antonia: Tom Perrotta, Richard Powers, and Meg Wolitzer.