My Antonia – Willa Cather
Summary: Set on the backdrop of 19th century Nebraska, My Antonia chronicles the life of Antonia Shimerda, an immigrant girl trying her best to get acclimated to her new home, through the eyes of one of her childhood friends, Jim Burden.
Review: I’m not entirely sure how I made it through my formal education without having Willa Cather as required reading, but alas, it happened. I have, however, owned My Antonia for a number of years, but I haven’t picked it up until now because, in all honesty, a book set in Nebraska during this time period didn’t really seem all that interesting to me. Why did I buy it, then? I’ve read really great reviews, and I feel like it’s my duty to give every classic the old college try. As I’m sure you can imagine, I went into this with a great deal of trepidation, but much to my delight, I enjoyed it quite thoroughly, and I’m glad that I got off of my throne of judgment long enough to read My Antonia.
My Antonia was more than just a story set in an American prairie; it was also a glimpse into immigrant life in the early 19th century, and a story of love and loss. While reading Antonia’s tale, I couldn’t help but think of my ancestors who made the trip to America, and what it must have been like to be completely absorbed in a culture that you didn’t know very much about. It wasn’t always easy for Antonia’s family, but fortunately, they found very good friends in the Burden family who helped them with their assimilation. It was interesting to see Antonia’s immersion into the culture combined with her nostalgia for her homeland, as I’m sure that is an accurate indicator of how one would feel when one is faced with these conditions.
Jim Burden was a wonderful narrator for this piece, and calling the novel My Antonia really showed how much she had meant to him. While Jim and Antonia were living separate lives, Jim never really forgot about the girl who stole his heart when he was young, and his longing for the past was heartfelt and believable. Jim was not a perfect person and was well aware of that, but his flaws made him a very real, human character.
The portions of the book featuring Lena were also interesting. Like the other characters in the novel, Lena was far from flawless, but her shortcomings made her interesting and compelling. Her friendships with Jim and Antonia seemed genuine, as they weren’t always perfect, but they tried to be there for one another as much as they could.
Love and loss were also at the very heart of this novel, and Cather did an incredible job of weaving both into the tale. Many of the losses came out of the clear blue, as is often the case with life, and the reactions to everything were quite authentic. Cather also expounded upon love in a very real way, highlighting the complications of being in love and expounding on the fact that, when it comes to relationships, things aren't always clear cut. More than anything, this novel was a wonderful examination of the human condition.
If you enjoy classics, beautiful writing, and complex stories with interesting characters, My Antonia is a must read.