Our Bookclub decided to read this classic book (written in 1918), and I'm glad we did, because I really liked it.
This book is about Antonia Shimerda, a Bohemian immigrant to the state of Nebraska in the 1880s. The story is told from the perspective of the narrator, Jim Burden, who relates his own image of Antonia that he recreates from his childhood and youth. Jim and Antonia come from different places in the social heirarchy, she being a poor immigrant girl and Jim becoming a successful, well-traveled, and cultured lawyer. Antonia survives a series of setbacks, from her father's suicide, being abandoned at the altar, and finally giving birth out of wedlock, yet finally achieves fulfillment in her marriage to a Czech farmer, their many children, and thriving farm. And Jim remains romantic, nostalgic, and unfulfilled.
I love the quote that begins the book "optima dies prima fugit", which translates to "In the lives of mortals the best days are the first to flee". The book is written in a quite lovely style. It has been said that Cather's portrait of Antonia is widely acknowledged as one of the most memorable characters in twentieth century literature and that her image of Antonia celebrates the vitality and fruitfulness of the pioneering era as a type of lost paradise. There are many descriptions of the land where it talks about trees being so rare they visited them like people. At one point in the book Cather says "Winter lies too long in country towns, hangs on until it is stale and shabby, old and sullen. On the farm the weather was the great fact, and men's affairs went on underneath it, as the streams creep under the ice."
This is a well crafted and sympathetic portrayal of immigrant pioneers written with poetic sensibility, deeply rooted in a sense of place, and at the same time universal in its treatment of theme and character. I highly recommend it.
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