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My Ántonia by Willa Cather

My Ántonia (1918)

by Willa Cather

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Prairie Trilogy (3)

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English (231)  German (2)  Italian (1)  Spanish (1)  Piratical (1)  All languages (236)
Showing 1-5 of 231 (next | show all)
(This was read as part of my 2011 reading project, 100 Years, 100 Books, which commemorated RPL's 100th anniversary.)

My friend Paula, a Nebraska native, has been after me to read this book for years and now I understand. I’d been spending nearly all of my reading time with early 20th century mysteries and, quite frankly, they’d become tedious. After forcing myself through The Red House by A.A. Milne, I really felt like I needed a change of pace. I had downloaded a whole bunch of free books to my Kindle for this reading project, and My Antonia just happened to be at the top of the list, so I casually opened it one night a week ago to see what it was all about.

I found a beautiful, heartbreaking, luminous story that captivated me from the first page. Cather tells the story of Antonia Shimerda, a headstrong, handsome Bohemian girl whose family is transplanted to Black Hawk, Nebraska in the 19th century. Antonia’s story is told through the eyes of Jim Burden, an orphan who also arrives to live with his grandparents in Black Hawk on the same train as Antonia and her family. The two become fast friends whose lives twine around each other over the course of a lifetime.

The interesting thing about this story that is so different from what I’ve been reading is that there really isn’t a storyline. This is a memoir, a re-telling of a bucolic if hard childhood on the prairie, coming of age in a small mid-western town, and adulthood not yet devoid of childhood innocence and affection between lifelong friends.

I was reminded of two stories as I read this one – Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder and the 2010 Newbery winner Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool. The sod houses of Wilder’s early books are here, as is the red prairie grass, snakes, farms, and family devotion. The similarity to Manifest, Kansas is more in the characters drawn by Cather and Vanderpool than in the story. However, all three books share the same comforting, lovely tributes to the importance of family and friends.

Cather’s characters, from Antonia and her regal but defeated father, to the foreign farm girls who go to town as “hired girls,” to Antonia’s husband and colorful tribe of children, to the narrator – Jim Burden himself – are finely drawn and developed with care and compassion. She captures the tender friendship between Antonia and Jim, which becomes the thread that twines through the entire story and ultimately makes it successful.

A beautiful book that will stay with me for a long, long time. ( )
  patriciau | Dec 27, 2018 |
This time-tested book is about life in the pioneer-era on the Nebraska prairie. It is a story of contrasts between the immigrant families (Antonia and her family) and the natives (Jim Burden and his family). Cather tells of the good and bad experiences and of their influences on the prairies dwellers. ( )
  Rdglady | Nov 20, 2018 |
What a lovely story of life on the midwestern prairie in a place and time not far removed from my own family. The life was hard, but the joy of being alive and human and a part of it something bigger than oneself was pervasive, particularly as it pertained to Antonia, she of the overwhelming life force. The story was somewhat slow to start as we got to know the characters and watched them growing up, but the payoff was more than worth it, seeing Antonia and Jim both finding themselves and forging their fates. ( )
  AliceAnna | Nov 16, 2018 |
Published 100 years ago in 1918, Willa Cather's “My Antonia” remains a remarkable work of literature. Thomas C. Foster features it in his book “Twenty-Five Books That Shaped America,” observing "it is beautifully written and was recognized as such from the moment of its publication."

Although relatively short, the novel covers a lot of territory and many years. It can be said to be about many things, among them:

"Some memories are realities, and are better than anything that can ever happen to one again."

1. The power of memory

Two men who grew up together in a small Nebraska town decide to share written memories of a girl they both knew, a Bohemian immigrant named Antonia Shimerda. Jim Burden is the only one who actually does so, and this book is what he remembers.

Although she is four years older than him, Jim tutors her in English. He is a brilliant boy who eventually goes to Harvard and becomes a lawyer. She becomes his playmate, a lifelong friend and, thanks to the power of memory, the love of his life.

"I knew where the real women were, though I was only a boy; and I would not be afraid of them, either!"

2. The strength of immigrant women

Antonia's father becomes so lonely for the Old Country (the power of memory again) that he commits suicide. Later her husband similarly pines for the land he left behind, but Antonia's strength and optimism (and a house full of children) helps keep him focused on the present. Unlike in Glendon Swarthout's “The Homesman,” the female prairie pioneers are the sturdy ones, able to meet any obstacle with good cheer and a little extra effort.

Of all the girls in his rural community, Jim Burden finds those immigrant girls the most appealing. "If there were no girls like them in the world, there would be no poetry," he says.

"Everything was as it should be: the strong smell of sunflowers and ironweed in the dew, the clear blue and gold of the sky, the evening star, the purr of the milk into the pails, the grunts and squeals of the pigs fighting over their supper."

3. The lure of the prairie

The prairie was the focus of all, or at least most, of Willa Cather's books, and “My Antonia” was the third novel in her prairie trilogy, which also included “O Pioneers!” and “The Song of the Lark.” Jim Burden's education and later career takes him far from the Nebraska home where he came of age, but as the saying goes, you can't take the country out of the boy. The prairie, like Antonia herself, remains a part of him and draws him back. ( )
  hardlyhardy | Oct 31, 2018 |
I was forced to read this book for class, and trust me "forced" is the right word. There is no way I would have read this book had I not been held responsible for knowing what it was about. The writing is inarguably beautiful at times, but there was no distinct plot, very limited characterization, and overall, I think the story could have been told in a better way. I do not have any plans to reread this anytime soon. ( )
  Borrows-N-Wants | Sep 22, 2018 |
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» Add other authors (35 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Willa Catherprimary authorall editionscalculated
Benda, W. T.Illustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Byatt, A.S.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Colacci, DavidNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Norris, KathleenForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tapper, GordonIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Optima dies . . . prima fugit
To Carrie and Irene Miner in memory of affections old and true.
First words
I first heard of Ántonia on what seemed to me an interminable journey across the great midland plain of North America. I was ten years old then; I had lost both my father and mother within a year, and my Virginia relatives were sending me out to my grandparents, who lived in Nebraska. I traveled in the care of a mountain boy, Jake Marpole, one of the “hands” on my father’s old farm under the Blue Ridge, who was now going West to work for my grandfather. Jake’s experience of the world was not much wider than mine. He had never been in a railway train until the morning when we set out together to try our fortunes in a new world.
"When a writer begins to work with his own material," said Willa Cather, in a retrospective preface to her first novel, Alexander's Bridge, "he has less and less choice about the moulding of it. (Preface)
He placed this book in my grandmother's hands, looked at her entreatingly, and said, with an earnestness which I shall never forget, "Te-e-ach, te-e-ach my Ántonia!"
Because he talked so little, his words had a peculiar force; they were not worn dull from constant use.
Lena was Pussy so often that she finally said she wouldn't play any more.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (3)

Book description
My Ántonia chronicles the life of Ántonia, a Bohemian immigrant woman, as seen through the eyes of Jim, the man unable to forget her. Jim, now a successful New York lawyer, recollects his upbringing on a Nebraska farm. Even after 20 years, Ántonia continues to live a romantic life in his imagination. When he returns to Nebraska, he finds Ántonia has lived a battered life. Although the man to whom she dedicated her life abandons her, she remains strong and full of courage.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 039575514X, Paperback)

It seems almost sacrilege to infringe upon a book as soulful and rich as Willa Cather's My Ántonia by offering comment. First published in 1918, and set in Nebraska in the late 19th century, this tale of the spirited daughter of a Bohemian immigrant family planning to farm on the untamed land ("not a country at all but the material out of which countries are made") comes to us through the romantic eyes of Jim Burden. He is, at the time of their meeting, newly orphaned and arriving at his grandparents' neighboring farm on the same night her family strikes out to make good in their new country. Jim chooses the opening words of his recollections deliberately: "I first heard of Ántonia on what seemed to be an interminable journey across the great midland plain of North America," and it seems almost certain that readers of Cather's masterpiece will just as easily pinpoint the first time they heard of Ántonia and her world. It seems equally certain that they, too, will remember that moment as one of great light in an otherwise unremarkable trip through the world.

Ántonia, who, even as a grown woman somewhat downtrodden by circumstance and hard work, "had not lost the fire of life," lies at the center of almost every human condition that Cather's novel effortlessly untangles. She represents immigrant struggles with a foreign land and tongue, the restraints on women of the time (with which Cather was very much concerned), the more general desires for love, family, and companionship, and the great capacity for forbearance that marked the earliest settlers on the frontier.

As if all this humanity weren't enough, Cather paints her descriptions of the vastness of nature--the high, red grass, the road that "ran about like a wild thing," the endless wind on the plains--with strokes so vivid as to make us feel in our bones that we've just come in from a walk on that very terrain ourselves. As the story progresses, Jim goes off to the University in Lincoln to study Latin (later moving on to Harvard and eventually staying put on the East Coast in another neat encompassing of a stage in America's development) and learns Virgil's phrase "Optima dies ... prima fugit" that Cather uses as the novel's epigraph. "The best days are the first to flee"--this could be said equally of childhood and the earliest hours of this country in which the open land, much like My Ántonia, was nothing short of a rhapsody in prairie sky blue. --Melanie Rehak

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:51 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

A New York lawyer remembers his boyhood in Nebraska and his friendship with a pioneer Bohemian girl. A novel set in Nebraska about pioneering Bohemian farmers & of the courageous heroine, Antonia. First published in 1918. In Willa Cather's own estimation, My Antonia, first published in 1918, was "the best thing I've ever done." An enduring paperback bestseller on Houghton Mifflin's literary list, this hauntingly eloquent classic now boasts a new foreword by Kathleen Norris, Cather's soulmate of the plains. Infused with a gracious passion for the land, My Antonia embraces its uncommon subject - the hardscrabble life of the pioneer woman on the prairie - with poetic certitude, rendering a deeply moving portrait of an entire community. Through Jim Burden's endearing, smitten voice, we revisit the remarkable vicissitudes of immigrant life in the Nebraska heartland with all its insistent bonds. Guiding the way are some of literature's most beguiling characters: the Russian brothers plagued by memories of a fateful sleigh ride, Antonia's desperately homesick father and self-indulgent mother, and the coy Lena Lingard. Holding the pastoral society's heart, of course, is the bewitching, free-spirited Antonia Shimerda.… (more)

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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Tantor Media

2 editions of this book were published by Tantor Media.

Editions: 1400100747, 1400108454

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