“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.
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 Cather, My 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 Cather, My 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.)