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My Antonia by Willa Cather
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My Antonia (1918)

by Willa Cather

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Prairie Trilogy (3)

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English (196)  Italian (1)  Piratical (1)  German (1)  All languages (199)
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Listening to this on tape right now. It's entertaining while I get other things done, but I don't know that I would sit down and actually read this myself. It reminds me very much of Little House on the Prairie, which is refreshing. It's always fascinating to glimpse the inside of lives from a different time.
  KirSio | Aug 31, 2015 |
[My Antonia] by Willa Cather and [Beloved] by Toni Morrison

Life is filled with remembrance, honeyed with nostalgia or seasoned with sour regret. Some of the best books tap into the yen to look back at a time that has lost reality’s sharp edges, glowing in our collective memory as a better or simpler time. Others seek to shine hindsight’s harsh light, to expose any such wistful longing as a distorting toxin. The truth, as always, probably lies somewhere between.

A bunny cake, with coconut frosting is my earliest memory. I was obsessed with Bugs Bunny; his silly antics struck a cord with my as yet undeveloped brain. There was something special about that crazy animal, able to outwit man and beast alike yet still humble enough to not take himself too seriously. Believing she could work any miracle, in the kitchen or beyond, I begged for a Bugs Bunny cake, with coconut frosting, of course. These were the days before many specialty bakeries existed, before the country developed a sense of entitlement to purchase anything that could be imagined, when little boy’s dreams depended on a mother’s ingenuity and devotion. Baking a cake in such an unusual and intricate shape didn’t seem like too much to ask. He was a famous and heroic figure, after all – there must be cakes made in his likeness. Like all things I asked my mother to produce, the bunny cake appeared, furry with coconut and complete with black whiskers. I’m told that I can’t remember this event, as it was my second birthday, that I must have seen a picture that I’ve confused as a memory. But no one can produce the picture, and I remember the candlelight dancing across that bunny’s coconut fur. That event stands in my memory like a baptism of sorts, initiating me into the faith that my mother could do anything – she need only be asked. Of course, in later years, apostasy arrived with a teenaged fury. But like all prodigals, I returned as I grew to respect the love and devotion that produced the miracles of my youth – the middle ground between nostalgia and reality’s harsh light.

Willa Cather’s elegiac [My Antonia] is hazy with honeyed nostalgia. It is a book sitting atop a small rise in the plains and looking back over what has become of a way of life, of a place and people deeply rooted in the soil watching as the world careens off in a different direction. There is a truth to the remembrance, to freezing a place’s sensations in amber to look back on as encouragement against tomorrow’s severity. And that’s what [My Antonia] is about: Jim Burden, unhappy with his job’s mundanity, looking back on his childhood hero and love, Antonia. Her wildness, her steely determination, her beauty; all things that he associates with the vast prairie where they lived and things he longs for in his adult life. Listen to Willa as Jim remembers evenings with Antonia:
“All those afternoons were the same, but I never got used to them. As far as we could see, the miles of copper-red grass were drenched in sunlight that was stronger and fiercer than any other time of the day. The blond cornfields were red gold, the haystacks turned rosy and threw long shadows. The whole prarie was like the bush that burned with fire and was not consumed. That hour always had the exultation of victory, of triumphant ending, like a hero’s death – heroes who died young and gloriously. It was a sudden transfiguration, a lifting-up of day.”
As beautiful as Jim’s memory is, it is tainted by the place from where he views it all, as you can see in the next paragraph:
“How many an afternoon Antonia and I have trailed along the prarie under that magnificence! And always two long black shadows flitted before us or followed after, dark spots on the ruddy grass.”
Those shadows that were sometimes ahead and sometimes chasing them are the events that cast them away from youth’s simple and enveloping beauty. It is these shadows that Jim speaks from as a man, longing for the childhood’s lost rays. They are the shadows from which I see the candlelight dancing on a cake in the shape of a bunny.

On the other hand, for the characters in Toni Morrison’s [Beloved], “Remembering seemed unwise.” Rather than looking back into soft amber light, Morrison’s characters speak from the shadows into darkness. Indeed, the fowl past is embodied in a specter that has seized flesh and blood to haunt Sethe and her daughter Denver. Having killed her infant rather than see it be enslaved, the child first haunts her home as a poltergeist, and then, when a threatening force arrives in Paul D, an old friend, the ghost takes on human form, pulling Sethe and Denver into an obsessive spiral. Though Beloved is the impetus for the plot, the story is really how Sethe and Paul D arrived at this point in their lives, how they survived brutal conditions to see freedom and how the choices that led to their freedom haunt their souls. Looking back for these two is to look into an abyss. And yet at the end of the book, Paul D rescues Sethe from a suicidal malaise, remembering what another of their friends said about the love of his life:
“She is a friend of my mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order. It’s good, you know, when you got a woman who is a friend of your mind.”
Even from the darkness, Paul D sees a faint light in the past, a salvation in his memory. That’s that candlelight I see dancing on a bunny’s coconut fur in my memory.

There are few books more beautifully written than [My Antonia] and few books more stark and difficult than [Beloved]. But they both stand for what remembrance holds, whether dark or amber, and that in the light of either, hope glimmers.

Bottom Line: The light and dark of memory.

4 bones!!!!! ( )
3 vote blackdogbooks | Aug 2, 2015 |
A superb depiction of place (Nebraska), time (1880's to 1910's), and people. The book creates an atmosphere the reader can sink into. ( )
  snash | Jul 29, 2015 |
As a young orphan, Jim Burden travels by train to his grandparents home in Nebraska, where he meets the lovely Antonia. Their friendship becomes a close one that lasts a lifetime. The story is told through Jim's reminiscences. Willa Cather's story telling is easy and picturesque, and her characters are recognizable.

December 2014 ( )
  NanaCC | Jul 26, 2015 |
I picked this one up on the bargain shelf for no other reason than my daughter’s name is in the title and one so seldom sees that name in print (on anything!). This book was first published in 1918. The story is told by Jim Burden and is rich with details about life in late 19th century Nebraska. ( )
  ChristineEllei | Jul 14, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (36 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Willa Catherprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Benda, W. T.Illustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Byatt, A.S.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Colacci, DavidNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Norris, KathleenForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Optima dies . . . prima fugit
-Virgil
Dedication
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)
Quotations
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.)
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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)

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A New York lawyer remembers his boyhood in Nebraska and his friendship with a pioneer Bohemian girl.

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