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.”