My Ántonia by Willa Cather: A Book Review

antonia

“Winter lies too long in country towns; hangs on until it is stale and shabby, old and sullen.” 
 Willa Cather, My Ántonia

My first perception about Willa Cather as a writer herself upon reading her Death Comes For  the Archbishop was that she could have been  as “ impartial a writer “ as Graham Greene ; I admire writers who have never been abandoned to their   deep-seated beliefs beyond logic. Although her former book   did not placate my taste , it  proved me that she was an exceptional writer who was able to  put her  exploratory imagination  into a story anyone for sure would be engaged in.  Eventually, my literary prediction turned out to be true in the   name of her  My Antonia ,  a master piece everyone should read.  It is spell-binding, page-turning; aside from the fact that it is beautifully-written, it opens your eyes to the reality of life in all aspects. I still   have a long list of adjectives   at the tip of my tongue   that I want to pronounce more on lavishing praise on this book.

“That is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.”
― 
Willa CatherMy Ántonia

As I had observed in her Death Comes For the Archbishop, Cather  knew her stuff well how to write a story  full of beautiful prose  that is as appealing  as the  enchanting  and breath-taking  widely-stretched prairie  in Nebraska ( although I have never been to such a place.) She was still able to write it  in narrative way  without much details  and importance to systematic plots  as what  a narrative story  must be. Still, her vivid  description, nostalgic narration about the life in the lonely countryside  was enough to bomb picturesque  imaginations. I loved them!

If you  grew in a province, far from the civilized city, I am cocksure that you  find this book nostalgic. I loved the story a whole lot as did Willa Cather, it reminds me of my very young memories  in a countryside where  I had learned  to lead the rustic  life. In my countryside, I grew to be  a farm boy helping my mother and grandparents  plant some  crops , especially rice plants on the farm  beyond the three golden hills watching us on errands as if they were all the goddesses of the harvest cordoning us off. There, I would often go fishing with my older brother, or sometimes go sightseeing with my friends along  the muddy river dividing the vast, flat rice field  before the twilight came on. There,  my friends and I would roughhouse  or frolic and gambol around the grassland  besides down the river the herds of geese afloat. There  I would climb the trees in the  orchards to pick some fruits I did not care about their names  unless I  found them uneatable. There I would ride cows or  water buffaloes  on weekends   with this pang of worries that they might  throw me off or gear me with their pointed horns since I was still a babe in the woods. There my grandfather and I would bushwhack on the way to make sure that no any kinds of snakes would bite us on the sly. In fact, my grandpa had killed several times. Gee!  All those memories were in my younger days prior to living in the city. So, I can   totally relate to the story.

“This is reality, whether you like it or not–all those frivolities of summer, the light and shadow, the living mask of green that trembled over everything, they were lies, and this is what was underneath. This is the truth.”
― 
Willa CatherMy Ántonia

This book , for me, is one of the best books that depict  what is the reality of life. There is no hypocrisy  in it ,especially  Cather was so candid that  others  in the past , even now, must have been bothered about her. The story is apparently about life in Nebraska , but it underlies the life itself the abject poverty among the immigrants at that time.  The life that depicts how the spirit of the immigrants , even of us, figuratively speaking , tests our choice of what life we want to lead in order to survive.

In the story, Antonia and her family   came from Bohemia  who took the plunge into living in America in the hope of a better life.  But a challenge for her along with her family  is how  to  subsist on the barren , but beautiful prairie without muck knowledge of the English language. It is her  strong determination that will change her world. However, in the end, it is her choice how she was going to change the universe, in which I was very disappointed as was Jim Burden, the narrator and Antonia’s most intimate childhood friend.

Antonia, the female protagonist, is an epitome of a strong, positive woman who has good-will and stalwart spirit  to control the miserable life she goes through- a woman definitely resembles women out there, whom you expect to succeed in life. However, in the end, LIFE IS A MATTER OF CHOICE. She will live back to  the farm as a careworn mother to nine children. So, my heart broke as I paced the story from the beginning to the  end where I tried to blink tears away, but I gave up. I gave up on Antonia’s fate

Antonia’s fate is opposite to some characters who decide to be sensible , level-headed in their lives. For instance, Jim Burden, the narrator and Antonia’s intimate childhood friend,  chose to search his life in law study and abroad when  he realized to be falling for Lena Lingard. Lena Lingard, on the other hand,  is an ambitious country girl as to Antonia  who chose to find her life in the city where she ended up a successful businesswoman. She even decided not to settle down since she preferred to be lonely in her life.  I liked the philosophy of both the characters.

There is a   momentous, or you may call it mushy   discourse   between Jim Burden and Antonia  which made my both jaws drop:

“Do you know, Àntonia, since I’ve been away, I think of you more often than of any one else in this part of the world. I’d have liked you to have you for a sweetheart, or a wife, or my mother or my sister- anything that a woman can be to a man. The idea of you is a part of my mind; you influence my likes and my dislikes, all my tastes, hundreds of time when I don’t realize it. You really are a part of me.” 
― 
Willa CatherMy Ántonia

What a beautiful  line!

I noticed that Cather was so audacious about writing   some parts   which  could have been subject to racial and sexual   criticism. Just saying.

It is my first time to have read a novel that is narrated by a  boy , especially if the theme is about life in a countryside. I am more used to young female narrators such as Judy Abbot in Ann of Green Gable, Emily ; Swiss Family Robinson, and so forth.  For this reason, I could not doubt the narrator’s sexual orientation. Anyway, it is not a big deal, is it? I’d rather take Willa Cather’s interpretation that Jim as the narrator in the first person signifies everyone.

This is the final book of Willa Cather’s  “prairie trilogy” of novels ,  O Pioneers! and The Song of the Lark– the books I had ignored several  times in a book store despite their affordable prices, believing that they might bore me to death. ( As usual, my rationalization is that I’ve got to  read My Antonia  first. ) Alas, I was being mesmerized by their old-fashioned   hard-bound pictures . At this time,  I assure you that once I take a crack at them at that book store, I will swoon over them and shout at the top of my voice, “  I gotcha!!!” Then, all the customers as well as the clerks on duty  might wake up from their hypnotic trance . Dear me, my friend! (^_^)

Rating: 5/ 5 stars ( It’s amazing.)

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2 thoughts on “My Ántonia by Willa Cather: A Book Review

  1. I completely agree. This is a magnificent novel. I think about it often even though I read it a number of years ago. I live in western Canada, but here too immigrants came, often from central Europe and moved into dirt houses. They worked hard and built their own futures on land that was never really meant for farming. I agree as well about Cather’s natural ear for a male voice though I read this as a man, not a boy, looking back on his childhood friend, then meeting her again later. Cather used to dress as a man and ride around town when she lived in Nebraska herself and, of course, she was a lesbian, so her identification may have run somewhat closer to male. In the earlier years of the 20th century, sexuality and gender identity were conflated and not understood as separate issues.

    But, in the end it doesn’t matter one way or another. This is a brilliant, unforgettable book!

    Liked by 1 person

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