My Ántonia

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


My Ántonia
by Willa Cather
★★★☆

Our narrator, Jim Burden, reminisces about growing up in Nebraska with a young Bohemian girl named Ántonia. The two became friends at a young age and their lives remained intertwined for decades. Jim teaches Ántonia how to read and write in English and her lust for life inspires him in turn.

The story provides such an interesting look at immigrant life in Nebraska. There’s an underlying prejudice against the immigrants and they struggle to fit in. We know very little about Antonia’s father before he dies, but we later learn he loved to read and discuss ideas, but he struggled with the new language and felt completely out of place in America. The language barrier also increases their suspicions of those around them, because they’re constantly worried they are going to be deceived. Though their fears are sometimes justified, it doesn’t go far to make them new friends.

I enjoyed the writing in this one, but the story didn’t resonate for me in the same way that Cather’s O Pioneers did. I went into that one knowing almost nothing and loved it so much. I think my expectations were a bit too high for this one. Jim isn’t a very charismatic character and when the plot meanders, we rely heavily on great characters. Luckily the writing is still wonderful, but I was left wanting a bit more.

I’m still definitely a fan of her work though and I’m looking forward to trying Death Comes for the Archbishop next, but my expectations might be a bit more tempered.

“I wondered if the life that was right for one was ever right for two.”

“I liked to watch a play with Lena; everything was wonderful to her, and everything was true. It was like going to revival meetings with someone who was always being converted. She handed her feelings over to the actors with a kind of fatalistic resignation. Accessories of costume and scene meant much more to her than to me.”

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11 comments:

Amanda said...

This has been my least favorite Willa Cather so far. My favorite is Death Comes to the Archbishop. I haven't read O Pioneers!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Amanda - That's good to hear. I was to read that one next and I was hoping I'd like it more.

Kristi said...

I have yet to read any Willa Cather books. I have heard people of the same opinion as you--they loved O Pioneers, but Mi Antonia was kind of meh. I too find it's difficult when I set my expectations too high. I'll probably start with O Pioneers.

annieb said...

I read My Antonia in high school and remember liking it but don't really remember much about it. I read The Professor's House recently and found it pretty boring, to be honest.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Kristi - That's good to hear. I hadn't heard anyone say that! I thought it was just me and I was worried O Pioneers was a fluke. I went into that one knowing nothing about Cather and so I was really happily surprised.

annieb - I think I'll try Death Comes next and see what I think of Cather after that.

Captain Nick Sparrow said...

I was not a big fan myself. I felt like there wasn't really a plot, more like, here's what happened when I was a kid. But I love sharing this link with people who read the book:
http://wordlily.com/2009/10/13/literary-road-trip-to-red-cloud-nebraska-home-of-willa-cather/

Care said...

I read somewhere that most people mispronounce the title and ever since, I just love to say an-tun-EE-ah . I haven't read it this but I used to live in Nebraska. I think I would rather start with Death Comes to the Archbishop. Such a great title.

Jenners said...

I know I read this in college but your synopsis doesn't even ring any bells, which is odd.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Captain - I love that link! I'm such a fan of taking literary roadtrips. I have never been to Nebraska so this is definitely going on the Wanderlust list.

Care - I really loved the first Cather book I read, but I'll admit one of the reasons why I wanted to read this one was because of the Library Girl song...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wPSV8CsshnM

She prounouces the name right!

Jenners - Ha, I wonder if I gave a bad synopsis or if it's just forgettable.

Adam said...

Have you read A Lost Lady, yet? I loved, loved, loved it.

Such a fan of Willa Cather.. I have Archbishop and O Pioneers! sitting on my shelf.. might have to read at least one of those in the near future.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Adam - I haven't read that one yet, I'll bump it up the list.