O Pioneers!
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O Pioneers! (Great Plains Trilogy #1)

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3.8 of 5 stars 3.80  ·  rating details  ·  22,360 ratings  ·  1,520 reviews
One of America’s greatest women writers, Willa Cather established her talent and her reputation with this extraordinary novel—the first of her books set on the Nebraska frontier. A tale of the prairie land encountered by America’s Swedish, Czech, Bohemian, and French immigrants, as well as a story of how the land challenged them, changed them, and, in some cases, defeated...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published March 1st 1989 by Bantam Classics (first published 1913)
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Sparrow
Jun 16, 2010 Sparrow rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Sparrow by: sadly, I think no one did
Alexandra looked at him mournfully. “I try to be more liberal about such things than I used to be. I try to realize that we are not all made alike.”

Everything in O Pioneers! is beauty to me. I am so in love with this book. Maybe it is because I have it in my brain that pioneers by definition suck that Willa Cather always catches me by surprise and turns me upside down. It’s like walking through an alien landscape and then running into my best friend. I thought what I would find was Michael Lando...more
Diane
"The history of every country begins in the heart of a man or a woman."

I don't know why I haven't read this before -- it seems like the kind of novel I should have been assigned in 9th grade -- but I'm glad I read it as an adult because I wouldn't have appreciated it as much when I was younger. I am from the Midwest and my grandparents were farmers, and I loved Willa Cather's stories about what it was like for the pioneers in Nebraska. I liked Cather's spare writing style; she gives just the rig...more
Kim

Where has Willa Cather been all my reading life? Until fairly recently, I'd never heard of her. Now that I've read just one of her novels, I want to read more.

This short novel is centred on Alexandra Bergson, the daughter of Swedish immigrants whose intelligence and hard work brings her success as a farmer in a rural area of early 20th century Nebraska. It's a deceptively simple novel, with a third person narrative progressed in chronological order. However, even though Cather's narrative style...more
Sarah
I don’t know how, but I got through all of high school and college in America without reading a word of Willa Cather. It all worked out for the best though, since ten years ago I would have probably found her work like, totally boring and about farming and the human condition, or whatever.

I picked up My Antonia a few months ago and loved it to bits - to me, nothing beats stories written in ordinary language about ordinary people. Mix in some bleak, sweeping plains, some overtly lesbian action, a...more
Matt
"Hell, I even thought I was dead 'til I found out it was just that I was in Nebraska."
-- Gene Hackman as Little Bill Daggett, Unforgiven

Willa Cather's opening description of Nebraska is unlikely to find its way into the Cornhusker State's tourism bureau pamphlets. She describes the fictional town of Hanover as near to being blown away by a howling wind; she describes low drab buildings; a gray sky; a gray prairie. The Nebraska of O Pioneers! is hard, unforgiving, yet tempting; it is a land that...more
Scott Axsom
Willa Cather is a genius. There, I said it. It’s out of the way. O Pioneers! was published in 1913 and I’m convinced, had it been published just a few years later, she would’ve won the Pulitzer for it. Sadly, the prize had yet to be established when O Pioneers! was published. (It was established for fiction 5 years later, and she received it, anyway, in 1922 for One of Ours).

Many factors go into making Cather such a brilliant writer but foremost, in my mind, is her ability to effortlessly descri...more
Jim
I've heard about this for years. It's supposed to be a classic & I don't know exactly what I expected, but this wasn't it. There wasn't enough detail to really catch my attention. It was a bit of a character study of the strong people that built our country, but they were all caricatures. Silly, virginal love threads intertwined with tough characters in a really interesting landscape & time that didn't get nearly enough attention. A lot of good elements, but it just didn't do much for me...more
Sue
Apr 17, 2013 Sue rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: readers of classic American fiction
Willa Cather appears to write so effortlessly or, perhaps, I should say, her prose reads so effortlessly. Her characters ring true and the land looms over them all. Of course Cather lived on that prairie and knew that land. Cather knew farm families like the Bergsons and possibly a woman like Alexandra Bergson, whose life was fully formed and influenced by the land.

There are different views of the land's influence on its people:


"John Bergson had the Old-World belief that land, in
itself, is des...more
Steven
"A pioneer should have imagination, should be able to enjoy the idea of things more than the things themselves (27)," Willa Cather writes in her most famous novel, and with it, proves herself to be a pioneer of American literature. This is a must-read for anyone interested in an astute take on the westward expansion of our nation, told from the point-of-view of the female immigrants who had the vision to see what this country could become. It also charts with emotional precision the issues surr...more
Teresa
When I was a kid, I remember putting Death Comes for the Archbishop back on the shelf, thinking it sounded boring. Perhaps that preconception stuck with me, because this is the first Cather I've read. It is far from boring. The prose seems effortless, the pages turn quickly, and I became invested in the characters.

Over the weekend, while in Jackson, Mississippi, I came across a quoted conversation (in the Mississippi Writers Exhibit in the main branch of the public library renamed the Eudora Wel...more
Mark
Nov 25, 2011 Mark rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: commuters
Recommended to Mark by: Ivan
My journey from Poole in Dorset up to London on the train and then back again yesterday was made so easy by virtue of reading this book that I did not even notice that i was 20 mins late into London in the morning and 40 mins late back into Poole last night. Well maybe a little but it was certainly made less frustrating. This was a quite wonderful novel in so many ways and the danger would be that I could collapse into cliche but I shall try to restrain myself.

You know how often people talk of...more
Diane S.
The prairie land of Nebraska, many immigrants from other countries flocked to the wide open spaces and land for the taking, many were defeated by the harsh conditions. Where the weather could make or break one, were intakes were most often re-paid in misfortune. Many would leave, go back to the cities and jobs in factories, but for those who stayed, made wise decisions the land would yield much.

A wonderful story, beautiful but plain prose, descriptive writing, one can feel the beauty and alterna...more
Ben Winch
I came to this book without preconceptions (in Australia, Willa Cather is not as central to the canon as in the U.S.) and loved it. The prose - for its time and for all time - is crisp, clear, concise and beautiful. The sense of place is haunting. The characters are the type you miss when the story's over. One small criticism: it seemed, perhaps, too tragic, as though its tragedy was the trope of a young writer wanting something to hang a novel on and not intrinsic, deeply-felt, inevitable. Me,...more
Rebecca
This is another book I somehow neglected to read during high school and college. High school is excusable, as the school I attended had a joke of an English curriculum. But I'm rather surprised that I never had to read this in any of my American Literature classes at UWM.

I was hooked after reading the poem that precedes Part I, (The Wild Land). She combines lyricism and spareness of prose in a way that I've always admired. My friend Kate told me that F. Scott Fitzgerald was actually so concerned...more
Tia
How on earth did I get to be 36 without reading a word of Willa Cather? I really fell in love with this book. I love the way she talks about the land, as if it were a character in the book. It was so interesting how all of the different immigrant groups interacted, yet relied so heavily on each other, particularly in hard times. I found Alexandra to be a powerful force as a woman in a time when women were rarely seen in the role that she had. I agree that women of that time shaped our nation thr...more
Brandon
Nov 28, 2007 Brandon rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Laura Ingalls Wilder
Shelves: librivox
damn, i wanted to like this, because willa cather might be the best name for a writer, and it could be that this is the way people love (full disclosure: i lived for a time in this part of the country, nebraska/kansas, and an unrequited love of mine shares a last name with one of the characters BUT I WILL SURVIVE STOP LOOKING AT ME LIKE THAT! ahem), EXCEPT FOR THE PART WHERE THE TOKEN LOVEBIRDS GET BLASTED WITH A SHOTGUN.

seriously, that was out of nowhere, and upset the pastoral dynamic and was...more
Brian
May 26, 2008 Brian rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in American literature and American history
This book really is a classic and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I think the book has some flaws (e.g., I found the dialogue to often be stilted), but I still think it is a excellent example of a great American novel. It wa written in the year 1913, before the world and even America loss some of its innocence with the advent of the Great War.

I have not read any of the literary criticism of this book or Willa Cather, but from what I know about U.S. history about America at this time, this book had to b...more
Christopher
I love Willa Cather, but I found O Pioneers! is a bit melodramatic and calculated -- too earnest and sentimental, and the characters rather one-dimensional compared to her other novels and stories.

The hot spots in Cather: when the sophisticated (effete) urban man returns to confront the (butch) woman of the earth. I like thinking about how the Nebraska-born, Greenwich-Village-living Cather would identified and disidentified with these characters. Why does the intellectual/dandy come to harm?

But...more
Hillary
Sep 25, 2007 Hillary rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: romantics
Why should romantics read this book? Because it might slap a little sense into them. Of all the Cather I've read, this is her book that's most in love with the land, while recognizing that it is not anthropomorphic, or even like an animal. The land does not love you back. It's much bigger than you are, sort of like God, only, of course, minus the love thing. This doesn't mean you shouldn't invest yourself in it. It only means that you may not get anything back. Which is, again, a fairly religiou...more
Louise
Willa Cather introduces the reader to first and second (and a few later) generation immigrants to Nebraska. Some came for adventure, others came due to family misfortune, others came for domestic jobs. They were from Sweden, Norway, France, Bohemia and Germany and probably representative of the people Cather knew growing up in this place and time.

In the long build up to the story, you see the hard work and the loneliness of life on these plains. Like families everywhere, there are differences. I...more
Mayda
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Owen
O Pioneers! is possibly one of the worst books I have read in the past few months. In fact, it might as well be the worst. The character reactions are unrealistic and often rash, the book has no story other than the life of a few people who grow up on a farm, and the book itself is horribly written. The beginning of this book (I refuse to call it a story, as it is not) starts out with a family and some friends that have very little money and are really quite poor. I will not put a spoiler alert...more
snackywombat (v.m.)
Jan 10, 2008 snackywombat (v.m.) rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: pioneers of all kinds
Recommended to snackywombat by: my aunt liz
From a set of clippings about Willa Cather that my grandmother saved, I found out that even though Cather was so deeply rooted in Nebraska, she was actually buried in Jaffrey, N.H., where she wanted to be laid facing Mt. Monadnock. This goes a long way in showing how connected Cather felt to land in general, a characteristic of her personality that emerges in so much of her writing. I remember in my teenage impatience, I skipped through a lot of the descriptions of the Nebraska land when I read...more
☮Karen
The book started slow for me but ensnared me with its beauty. I’m a country girl at heart, with my ancestors starting out as land barons (aka farmers :) in turn-of-century Illinois, and several moved on to Nebraska – where and when this story takes place. So I wanted to love this from the first word.

Alexandra is in charge of the farm after her father dies, expanding and modernizing it, while two of her brothers do “all the work,” in their opinion. She dedicates so much of herself to running and...more
Kiersten
She is the most beautiful writer. I loved this book.
Crysta
This book snuck up on me and then promptly whomped me over the head. It's so beautifully written, you can see and smell and hear the prairie all around you, just as it was in turn-of-the-century Nebraska. But there are some very deep, very real themes and plotlines lurking beneath all the pastoral prose, and Cather has it exactly right: "There are only two or three human stories and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before; like the larks in this country t...more
Schmacko
O Pioneers! is a quiet Midwestern romance through and through.

In that sense, this novel is probably not for everyone. However, I grew up in rural Iowa and have always been fascinated by history, so I was maybe bred from birth to appreciate Cather. I love the quaintness and solitude of Cather’s story and her love stories of wild passionate melodrama against other more conservative values. My favorite sections of any of her novels, however, is where Cather waxes poetic about the wild prairie, the...more
Luann
This was a pleasure to read! Willa Cather's writing is straightforward and plain, yet beautiful at the same time. It completely mirrors the characters and the land written of in "O Pioneers!"

I've been thinking about what makes a classic, since this book is a classic yet isn't like many others I've read. I see this as a classic because it gives you a chance to step back and see your life through new eyes and compare it through the light of new experiences that you've never actually had, but feel...more
Mij Woodward
I was hooked with the first sentence of this book: ". . .the little town of Hanover, anchored on a windy Nebraska tableland, was trying not to be blown away." This gave me a clue I was dealing with someone who could write.

After that, there were the descriptions of the various immigrant groups that populated the place where the main character, Alexandra, lived. My history-loving side was fed and satisfied throughout.

Part of me sometimes felt critical of some things. Sometimes the dialogue felt li...more
Bam
The land is a major character in this tale of life on the Nebraska prairie in the late 1800s. Alexandra and her three younger brothers carry on working the family farm after the death of their father. Alexandra is smart enough to prosper where others have failed and eventually all three older siblings own rich farms. She puts her youngest brother, Emil, through college, hoping he will have a better life. But happiness is not to be for some and the book has a rather shocking and poignant ending.
'...more
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23 Short Classics: May Book - O Pioneers! 8 7 Jun 11, 2014 03:59PM  
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Just like the little town i never grew up in! 4 33 Nov 25, 2013 02:35PM  
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Wilella Sibert Cather is an eminent author from the United States. She is perhaps best known for her depictions of U.S. life in novels such as O Pioneers!, My Ántonia, and Death Comes for the Archbishop.

More about Willa Cather...
My Ántonia Death Comes for the Archbishop The Song of the Lark The Professor's House One of Ours

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“And now the old story has begun to write itself over there," said Carl softly. "Isn’t it queer: there are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before; like the larks in this country, that have been singing the same five notes for thousands of years.” 67 likes
“I like trees because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than other things do. I feel as if this tree knows everything I ever think of when I sit here. When I come back to it, I never have to remind it of anything; I begin just where I left off.” 62 likes
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