More than any other person we remembered, this girl seemed to mean to us the country, the conditions, the whole adventure of our childhood. To speak her name was to call up pictures of people and places, to set a quiet drama going in one’s brain.
Willa Cather is an incredible nature writer. She loses me to my imagination as she describes winter, the spring, summer and autumn through the hardships and triumphs of the old and new Scandinavians and Bohemians (Czechoslovakia) who have settled in the Nebraska prairie. Hoping to escape the poverty of the old country, some make a good go of it as they get to know the personality of this new land. But some refuse to adapt from the old ways and wallow endlessly in debt, depression and disease. The first generation tries to help the newcomers and there is some success, but there are always holdouts, too stubborn to take risks, try new methods or respect the different personality the seasons have here.
This book is so much about the land. The land as a wild mystery to the new immigrant farmers, but also as beauty and familiarity to the generation that settled before. This generational divide is a marked characteristic of this book.
Told as a reminiscence about his life on the prairie after he is orphaned, Jim Burden is sent from New York to live with his grandparents on their farm in Nebraska. He brings the struggles, the love and tragedies of the myriad characters to life, including his Ántonia, an independent Bohemian girl, who embodied the best and the worst of the old world and the new.
As we walked homeward across the fields, the sun dropped and lay like a great golden globe in the low west. While it hung there, the moon rose in the east, as big as a cart-wheel, pale silver and streaked with rose color, thin as a bubble or a ghost-moon. For five perhaps ten minutes, the two luminaries confronted each other across the level land, resting on opposite edges of the world. In that singular light every little tree and shock of wheat, every sunflower, stalk and clump of snow-on-the-mountain, drew itself up high and pointed, the very clods and furrows in the fields seemed to stand up sharply. I felt the old pull of the earth, the solemn magic that comes out of those fields at nightfall.
Sometimes I went south to visit our German neighbors and to admire their catalpa grove, or to see the big elm tree that grew up out of a deep crack in the earth….Trees were so rare in that country, and they had to make such a hard fight to grow, that we used to feel anxious about them, and visit them as if they were persons.
When Spring came, after that hard winter, one could not get enough of the nimble air. Every morning I wakened with a fresh consciousness that winter was over. There were none of the signs of spring for which I used to watch in Virginia, no budding woods or blooming gardens. There was only—spring itself; the throb of it, the light restlessness, the vital essence of it everywhere; in the sky, in the swift clouds, in the pale sunshine, and in the warm high wind—rising suddenly, sinking suddenly, impulsive and playful like a big puppy that pawed you and then lay down to be petted. If I had been tossed down blindfolded on that red prairie, I should have known that it was spring.
Title: My Ántonia
Author: Willa Cather
Publisher: Signet Classic
Device: Mass Market Paperback