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Through Jim Burden's endearing, smitten voice, we revisit the remarkable vicissitudes of immigrant life in the Nebraska heartland, with all its insistent bonds. Guiding the way are some of literature's most beguiling characters: the Russian brothers plagued by memories of a fateful sleigh ride, Antonia's desperately homesick father and self-indulgent mother, and the coy Lena Lingard. Holding the pastoral society's heart, of course, is the bewitching, free-spirited Antonia.

232 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1918

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About the author

Willa Cather

556 books2,079 followers
Wilella Sibert Cather was born in Back Creek Valley (Gore), Virginia, in December 7, 1873.

She grew up in Virginia and Nebraska. She then attended the University of Nebraska, initially planning to become a physician, but after writing an article for the Nebraska State Journal, she became a regular contributor to this journal. Because of this, she changed her major and graduated with a bachelor's degree in English.

After graduation in 1894, she worked in Pittsburgh as writer for various publications and as a school teacher for approximately 13 years, thereafter moving to New York City for the remainder of her life.

Her novels on frontier life brought her to national recognition. In 1923 she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her novel, 'One of Ours' (1922), set during World War I. She travelled widely and often spent summers in New Brunswick, Canada. In later life, she experienced much negative criticism for her conservative politics and became reclusive, burning some of her letters and personal papers, including her last manuscript.

She was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1943. In 1944, Cather received the gold medal for fiction from the National Institute of Arts and Letters, an award given once a decade for an author's total accomplishments.

She died of a cerebral haemorrhage at the age of 73 in New York City.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 8,561 reviews
Profile Image for karen.
3,976 reviews170k followers
August 12, 2018
i read this book the same day i found out that sparkling ice had introduced two new flavors, pineapple coconut and lemonade.

what does this have to do with anything, you ask??

well, sparkling ice is sort of a religion with me, and this book was wonderful, so it was kind of a great day, is all. i don't have a lot of those.

why have i never read willa cather before? i'm not sure. i think i just always associated her with old ladies, and i figured i would read her on my deathbed or something. maybe it was the unavoidable cather/catheter association.i don't know. all i know is that a certain little bird here on goodreads was always going "chirp chirp - willa cather!! chirp!! cather!!!"

and when someone dumped a bunch of free books by the curb in front of my house, i decided it was a sign to finally give her a chance. i liked it so much, i will pay for my next book of hers! you're welcome, cather estate!

this isn't a novel as much as a loosely gathered collection of stories in which the characters progress through time, grow up, lose their illusions, and make their way in the world; finding themselves in and defining themselves against the vast nothingness of the american prairie.

jim and antonia are children who arrive in black hawk, nebraska on the same train, and the book is an account of their lives both apart and together,through to their adulthood, framed as a series of recollections by jim, as he remembers antonia to a mutual friend and examines what she symbolized for him.

the descriptions of the landscape are phenomenal. the way the characters try to coax a living from the land and the harshness of nature is inspiring, antonia's irrepressible spirit is triumphant, even though she does come across as a headstrong pain in the ass at times.

i just loved it. it reminded me, probably unjustly, of both huck finn and this whole series of books that i loved loved loved when i was little:

i mean - it's willa cather - everything that needs to be said about her has probably already been said, so all i can contribute is that this book is like the kiwi-strawberry sparkling ice. it is not quite a black raspberry, but it is damn good.

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Samadrita.
295 reviews4,522 followers
October 9, 2015
I would have called 'My Ántonia' an immigrant novel. But then I realized that dubious distinction is reserved only for the creations of writers of colour - Jhumpa Lahiri, Zadie Smith, Xiaolu Guo, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Sunjeev Sahota, Yiyun Li, Lee Chang Rae and so on and so forth. Especially now when the word 'immigrant', hurled at us ad nauseam from the airwaves and the domains of heated social media discussions, invokes images of gaunt, exhausted but solemnly hopeful faces of Syrians knocking on the doors of Europe and America, having voyaged across perilous waters that have already claimed many of their loved ones as price of admission.

Who are immigrants anyway? Those who had the foresight and temerity to circumnavigate the globe and assert their self-declared God-given right to rule over lands inhabited by 'savages' they could easily extirpate/subjugate by dint of military might? Or those who foolishly came afterwards, much much later, balancing their starry-eyed dreams of fulfillment or often mere survival, on the crutch of that primeval instinct that humanity will vanquish the fact of man-made demarcations, only to languish in exile for a lifetime pining away for a lost home they could never regain?
Let's separate the chaff from the grain. 'Immigrants' are always sallow-skinned, tan-complexioned, sun-browned, needy Asians, Africans, Arabs, Latinos glibly umbrella-termed into convenient one-word identities.

And yet narrator Jim's Ántonia epitomizes the immigrant's dream. The dream of making a home out of an alien place, of finding comfort, success, a modicum of acceptance among complete strangers and perhaps, coming to own a sweep of land to settle in and spread one's roots. Yes I know this is a eulogy offered to the prairies edged in gold in the dying light of dusk, an attempt to memorialize a way of life that the ill-informed city-dweller cannot begin to imagine, the author's wistful contemplation of a time and place frozen only in the amber of her memories. Her earnest effort to capture the nuances of the hardscrabble life with the land, teeming with its secret life in visible and hidden corners, as permanent fixture in the farmer's existence. But my reasons for 5-starring this are slightly different.
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 of those fields at nightfall.

As far as central themes go, the American Dream is a bête noire within the repertoire of notable American fiction. An ostensibly noxious concept deserving of indictment by authors who have found it commensurate with an obsession with the unattainable, a doctrine of mindless avarice that leads one down the path of self destruction. But Ántonia's version of the American Dream envisages a life of simple self-sufficiency, despite the hardships it may entail. It is worth protecting, worth immortalizing through the written word. The sky-rocketing desire for riches and social affluence is foreign to her Bohemian (Czech) sensibilities. In a way she is an extension of the Nebraskan wilderness itself - raw, rough and tender at the same time, inexplicably beautiful, cheerily resilient against the vicissitudes of fate and time, indomitable advocate of vitality and growth.
The whole prairie was like the bush that burned with fire and was not consumed. That hour always had the exultation of victory, of triumphant ending, like a hero's death-heroes who died young and gloriously. It was a sudden transfiguration, a lifting-up of day.

For Jim Burden, Ántonia is home, indelibly associated as she is with his boyhood days spent chasing rabbits and prairie dogs. She is a personification of those bygone days sucked into the spiral of time that can never be recovered, but the incontrovertible reality of which will remain etched on to the palate of Jim's consciousness in the brightest of letters till his dying day.
Years afterward, when the open-grazing days were over, and the red grass had been ploughed under and under until it had almost disappeared from the prairie; when all the fields were under fence, and the roads no longer ran about like wild things, but followed the surveyed section-lines, Mr. Shimerda's grave was still there, with a sagging wire fence around it, and an unpainted wooden cross.

Coming to the negatives, the casually racist comments directed at an African-American character ("He was always a negro prodigy who played barbarously and wonderfully.") and the exaltation of Antonia's womanhood could have curtailed my enjoyment somewhat but Cather did everything else so splendidly well that I'm choosing not to nitpick. Besides nowhere else within the wide realm of literature have I encountered such a believable depiction of friendship between a man and woman, each tied to the other through the bonds of shared childhood and a form of affection so wholesome that even a separation of two decades could not mellow it, each reduced to the status of a genderless individual, a blubbering emotional mess in the other's presence. (If I have, I cannot recall any such name at the moment.)
About us it was growing darker and darker, and I had to look hard to see her face, which I meant always to carry with me; the closest, the realest face, under all the shadows of women's faces, at the very bottom of my memory.

Brava, Ms Cather.
Profile Image for Meredith Holley.
Author 2 books2,213 followers
March 11, 2011
Maybe what I love about Willa Cather is all the kinds of love and belonging she writes. Her unhappy marriages and her comfortable ones; her volatile love and her unconsummated longing; and her lone, happy people, are all so different, but so how I see the world. I think the way she writes them is wise. Unreliable narrators are delightful to read because, in the sense that the author has shown me their unreliability, she has also shown me their uniqueness and humanity. I think Jim Burden, the narrator of My Antonia is a beautiful example of this and that most of the passion and mystery in this story comes from Jim’s failings as a human, within the story, and even as a character, from a critical perspective. I will explain.

Cather presents the story My Antonia as a story within a story. The narrative introducing the book comes from a friend of Jim’s, who tells us that Jim has always had a romantic disposition, but that, as of the writing of the book, Jim is in a presumably loveless marriage with an awful woman who is “temperamentally incapable of enthusiasm.” Jim’s mind is consumed with memories of a Bohemian girl Jim and the author of the introduction both knew, and she represents to them both the country and the people of their childhoods. Throughout the book, Antonia Shimerda and her warmth belong to the land and the people who love her, and when someone calls her “my Antonia” it means something about that belonging.

It is impossible to truly identify with Antonia because Cather writes her in this unreliable way, and so, even though she is a painfully real character, she is told with lovely mistakes – the mistakes we make in talking about people we love who we don’t understand, who are not like us. Anyway, I don’t remember making this connection the last time I read this book, but for most of my life, people have referred to me as “my Meredith.” I think maybe it is the alliteration that brings it on, but it has always baffled me. For a long time, I found it horrifying. The phrase had some kind of unsettling expectation to it. Now, though, I feel differently. I feel like it is lovely to belong to the people I care about, and the last time someone said it, it was just comfortable and true. I’m not saying that this makes me similar to Antonia Shimerda, but it made me think about how warm and human it is to belong to people like Antonia did.

So, I’m telling you about how this book is written by a woman, but from the perspective of a boy and then a man. Writing across genders is suspicious to me, and so that unreliability piles on to the already suspect character of Jim. And, I don’t think Cather tells him fairly or realistically as a male character, or that this story is told as a man would tell it. It is told in the way a woman would tell about a man’s love, and I like that. It has the insight of a woman into the motivations of another woman, but it has the gentleness of how a woman sees the emotions of men.

Cather always writes domestic stories, but there is also something epic about the tragedies, betrayals, and glory her characters encounter. I don’t think there is one in O Pioneers, but in most of her books she includes some story within the story (in this case also within the larger story) of a far-off land, and those stories are my favorite part of the adventure of reading Willa Cather. The story of the Russian wolves in My Antonia is my favorite.

I am a very impressionable young thing, and so when someone explains to me why they love something, it often sticks and colors my interpretation of that thing in the future. I am staunchly against the prairies, and the pioneers are usually dullsville. In real life, when I am away from mountains for too long I freak out, and I have an aversion to reading about how to live in a dug out. But Cather’s wonderful descriptions of Nebraska change the whole idea for me. I know it’s just descriptions, but they are so vivid and beautiful. I love the mountains, and I maintain that they are more beautiful than the prairies, but I could never describe the essence of the places I love like Cather does her places. And her places are ick, so that makes her even more wonderful as a writer.

Anyway, I love this book. I listened to it on audio this time, and the audio is really lovely. It is difficult to say whether this is my favorite Cather or O Pioneers is or The Professor’s House is. They are all wonderful. This one has a quality I like of being driven by character, not plot, but that is not always a draw. The people here are wonderful, timeless, and real. The things they say are things people should say, and they belong to each other the way people should. It is often brutal, in the way art should be brutal, with real feeling; but, it is not cruel. It tells how we should see each other and how we should be, but also how we do see each other and how we are. It is a sort of magical world that is also real life, but I think that is how we talk about people we love – suspiciously comfortable; unreliable, but belonging.
Profile Image for Jim Fonseca.
1,079 reviews6,894 followers
February 10, 2023
A classic story of immigrants on the Great Plains of Nebraska in the late 1800s. This is the third book in what the publishers call her ‘Great Plains Trilogy’: O Pioneers!, The Song of the Lark and My Antonia. Cather considered My Antonia her ‘masterpiece’ despite the fact that she won a Pulitzer in 1923 for One of Ours, a World War I story.


Immigrants and hardships. The first thing I liked is that these immigrants are not your typical immigrants as they might be portrayed on a Hallmark Channel story: hard-working, self-sacrificing, in love with the new land, etc. Antonia (prn. An-to-NEE-a) is a daughter of a Bohemian immigrant family fresh off the boat. The father is so homesick that he is depressed and suicidal. The older brother who runs the farm is arrogant, and self-serving and drives Antonia dawn-to-dusk in the fields as if she were a man. The mother is whining, conniving and not above begging for food and clothing from neighbors, and then being rather unthankful – almost resentful of their help.

But Antonia tolerates it all and comes to epitomize that American Dream immigrant farm girl. In addition to first-person narratives, much of the story is told by a neighboring farm boy, Jim, who grew up near Antonia. When he leaves the area to go to Harvard Law School, he keeps in touch with Antonia’s doings through acquaintances and infrequent visits, sometimes decades later.

The immigrants the story focuses on are Bohemians (of the present-day Czech Republic), but there are also Swedes, Norwegians, Russians, Austrians and Hungarians.


The stark landscape is like a character in the book, so I shelved it as an 'environmental novel.' I’m reminded of the vast openness of Giants in the Earth. Jim thinks “There seemed to be nothing to see; no fences, no creek or trees; no hills or fields…I had the feeling that the world was left behind, that we had got over the edge of it….If we never arrived anywhere, it did not matter. Between that earth and that sky I felt erased, blotted out.”

There isn’t a lot of plot other than the daily struggle to grow enough food to avoid starvation and to get enough fuel to avoid freezing in winter. Antonia’s family has been ripped off from the outset. In their travel to the new world, in the poor-quality land they are sold, and in the exorbitant price they were charged for what is basically ‘half’ of a sod house built cave-like into a hillside.

A good portion of the book is made up of vignettes of farm neighbors and townspeople. We read the stories of a tramp who kills himself in the fields; two Russian brothers who fled their home country after ‘throwing a bride to the wolves’ [no spoiler – you’ll have to read it!]; an itinerant blind, Black piano player; a sleazy money-lender and his wife. (Another reason you won’t see this story on Hallmark – there are multiple murders and suicides.)

About halfway through the book the action shifts to town. Jim is an orphan who lives with his grandparents and they move to town when they get too old to farm. Antonia eventually comes to town too. A lot of farm girls are more valuable to their families by bringing in money living in town as nannies and maids to better-off families. Some of them get jobs as clerks and as waitresses and maids in the hotel.

There’s a kind of life-long romance between Jim and Antonia, although nothing develops when they are young because Antonia is four years older than Jim. A cover blurb from H. L. Mencken tells us “No romantic novel ever written in America, by man or woman, is one half so beautiful as My Antonia.” Since most of the story is told by Jim, he tells us ‘I’ve been in love with Antonia all my life.’ And yet the novel is not a romance in a traditional sense. I have to put all this in a spoiler.

I’ll leave the ending of Antonia’s story as a surprise for those who want to read the book.

This book is without doubt an American classic. You could call it a heartwarming story but there’s a lot of tragedy along the way. Much of the writing, I would call lyrical, especially the harsh descriptions of winters and the beautiful depiction of landscapes – akin, I think, to the lush landscape writings of Virginia Woolf and Collette.


The author (1873-1947), wrote a dozen novels, many of which were historical novels not set on the Great Plains. These include one of her best-known works: Death Comes for the Archbishop, set in New Mexico, as well as Shadows on the Rock set in Quebec, and Sapphira and the Slave Girl, set in antebellum Virginia (where Cather was born and lived until age nine).

[Edited 2/10/23]

Top photo of present-day Red Cloud NE where the author lived from visitredcloud.com
Willa Cather’s home in Red Cloud NE from Wikipedia
The author from willacather.org
Profile Image for Matt.
908 reviews28.1k followers
January 29, 2021
“I sat down in the middle of the garden, where the snakes could scarcely approach unseen, and leaned m back against a warm yellow pumpkin. There were some ground-cherry bushes growing along the furrows, full of fruit. I turned back the papery triangular sheaths that protected the berries and ate a few. All about me giant grasshoppers, twice as big as any I had ever seen, were doing acrobatic feats among the dried vines. The gophers scurried up and down the ploughed ground. There in the sheltered draw-bottom the wind did not blow very hard, but I could hear it singing its humming tune up on the level, and I could see the tall grasses wave. The earth was warm under me, and warm as I crumbled it through my fingers…I kept as still as I could. Nothing happened. I did not expect anything to happen. I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes naturally as sleep…”
- Willa Cather, My Ántonia

For reasons I cannot fully explain – it just sort of happened – I spent the bulk of my life living in Nebraska. Being there, but not being from there, gave me certain insights into what it meant to live in that most middle part of Middle America.

Part of being a Nebraskan is dealing with the condescension of the rest of the country. It’s not just the coasts, though in the years I lived there, I noticed that the New York Times often referred to Nebraska as though it was an intensely backward country, feigning surprise that it should have such exotic attributes of civilization as good restaurants and popular bands. No, it’s everyone. Even Kansas and Iowa looked down on us – I mean them.

As a result of this, Nebraskans tend to be very proud – and defensive – about what they have, whether that is good beef, college football, or the College World Series. That holds true with Willa Cather, who set some of her most famous works in the Cornhusker State (though born in Virginia, she also grew up in Nebraska, and attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln). From just about the moment I arrived in the state, I was told I had to read her books.

Maybe it was the vague titles, or maybe it was the fact that my to-be-read pile takes up six bookshelves, or maybe it was a bit of anti-Nebraska condescension of my own, but I dragged my heels. Finally, though, I gave in.

Turns out, I probably shouldn’t have waited so long.

My Ántonia is a beautiful, engaging book, a look into the past that is both nostalgic and melancholy. In a way, it is a grownup Little House on the Prairie, with a shared connection to the land, and to the telling details of the lives of pioneers on the plains. Unlike Little House, though, there is more than a hint of repressed sexuality, along with the occasional outburst of violence.

Following a brief introduction by an unnamed narrator, the bulk of My Ántonia is presented as a manuscript – told in the first person – by a successful lawyer named Jim Burden. Jim is looking back at his childhood in Black Hawk, Nebraska, focused especially on a Bohemian girl named Ántonia.

(In this context, Bohemia refers to a part of Europe now occupied by the Czech Republic; it does not refer to a commune-dwelling hippy artist who only eats grass-fed grass and drinks rainwater from storms that occur on Tuesdays).

I found the nested narrative conceit a bit unnecessary. The story works just fine without it being from a “manuscript” written by a person with the literary skills of Willa Cather. Moreover, it’s a bit distracting at times, as Jim talks about things he is unlikely to know.

In any event, Jim’s story is divided into five parts. The first, longest, and best part details the newly-orphaned Jim’s arrival at the Nebraska farm of his grandparents. There, he meets the Shimerda family – including young Ántonia – who are also new to the neighborhood. The Shimerda family is the proverbial fish out of water (or more accurately, the Bohemians in Nebraska). They are inept farmers and are constantly being cheated. While the appropriately-named Burdens give them what assistance they can, Jim and Ántonia become friends. Their time together is not an epic adventure – rattlesnake killing is about as big as it gets – but rather a journey of discovery, of both themselves, and this harsh new world.

My Ántonia is a modestly paced novel, without a clearly-defined, overarching plot. Jim and Ántonia do not, for instance, have to fight off a ruthless cattle baron who is trying to take their lands. Instead of shepherding us from Point A to B, Cather is more concerned about the existence of the characters in this specific place, in this specific time. To that end, the great joy in the early going is the marvelous evocation of the land, and its effect on ten year-old Jim.

Of course, the land is not the only thing affecting young Jim. The other would be the eponymous Ántonia. There is a delicate, dramatic tension in the relationship between the two youngsters. It is clear that Jim loves her. Yet he also demonstrates a strange ambivalence, which opens up a distance between them that ends up haunting Jim forever.

One of the more interesting things about My Ántonia is the elusiveness of Ántonia herself. Cather has chosen to tell Ántonia’s story through the eyes of a man, and in doing so, deprives us of any insight into her inner life, her hopes and dreams, her likes and dislikes. To the extent that we know Ántonia at all, it is through Cather’s physical description of her, from the beauty of her eyes (“like the sun shining on brown pools in the wood”), to the way she looks tending a field, to her moves on the dance floor (which flirt with the scandalous). Everyone who meets Ántonia finds her unforgettable. Unfortunately, we never quite grasp why, since Ántonia – at times – feels more mythological than real. Jim sort of admits this when he says: “It’s through myself that I knew and felt her.”

There are a lot of ways to read My Ántonia, including through the prisms of gender and sexuality. Admittedly, I went down a bit of a rabbit hole after I finished the last pages, perusing an essay or two or three. I’m not sure that deconstructing the novel in this fashion increased my enjoyment or understanding, but it was fascinating nonetheless.

Still, it is not really necessary to comb through the dissertations of aspiring English doctoral students to appreciate what Cather accomplishes with My Ántonia. This is a classic novel of the American West, buoyed by gorgeous prose and a tone that precisely balances the brutal realities of the pioneer experience with a welcome helping of elegiacal romanticism.
Profile Image for Henry Avila.
451 reviews3,229 followers
October 3, 2020
James Quayle Burden loses both his parents at the tender age of ten in Virginia near the Blue Ridge Mountains, sent by relatives to his grandparents (Josiah and Emmaline Burden) by train, in the custody of a trusted employee that worked for his late father teenager Jake Marpole, reaching the farm safely in the still wild prairie state of Nebraska, newly settled by Americans, the Indians have been scattered and are no longer a threat , but the harsh frontier land remains untamed. Colorful Otto Fuchs an immigrant from Austria, former cowboy ( Wild West stories he recites, reluctantly , of his experiences there) and amiable Jake Marpole, who remains to help Jim's old relatives are very capable farm hands, that keep everything running smoothly quite needed by Jim's grandparents, he becomes their good friend ... Many of the these new settlers are from Europe, lured by the American government's promise and the law, that anyone who lives a certain amount of years on a property, it becomes theirs. But many poor Europeans arriving are from the cities, not knowing how to farm unable to build a log cabin, raise crops take care of animals that are essential to survive the unforgiving climate, hot excruciating summers and cold, snowy, freezing winters. The neighbors feels very sorry for these incompetents, get them out of their holes in the ground and make a proper home of wood; log cabins , give them animals which are vital to maintain a successful farm, show how to raise a crop, corn, even their old clothes to wear... A family from Bohemia (Czech Republic) are one of these people, not speaking a word of English the Shimerdas, living in a cave starving, no proper clothes dirt poor city folks the closest to Jim's grandparent's home. He meets pretty, lively, Antonia (Tony) Shimerda four years older, teaches her English at the urging of her unhappy father, the mother is always complaining about her lack of things ( and will never be grateful). They become pals, exploring the nearby untouched lands the endless, constantly moving red grass caused by the gentle winds and blue skies, seeing the fascinating sights , swimming in the local river's pristine water, picnics in the wilderness Jim falls in love with Antonia even trying to kiss her on the lips, she laughs at him treating the young boy like a child, puts her arms around his shoulders. They grow older, climbing a chicken house once to the roof, seeing an exhilarating electric storm in the night sky, lightning flashing close but not scared they're together, become almost adults and remain friends. The aging grandparents move to Black Hawk (Red Cloud) , a small town which Jim likes a short distance from their farm, it is rented to a widow and her brother. Jim can never stop loving My Antonia, her solid character working like a man in the fields to help her large family never quitting, treated badly by her stern brother Ambrosch, but in good humor when she comes home dead tired , soiled ragged clothes, face and body turned brown by the unceasing Sun, an optimist forever as young, clever, Burden leaves for college first in Lincoln the state capital, at the new University of Nebraska and then Harvard , becomes a rich railroad lawyer like Abraham Lincoln. He will come back and visit Antonia... A novel that tells what it was really like to live and struggle in the lonely prairie, during the nineteenth century in the American Midwest, not romantic but plenty of misery and a little happiness....
Profile Image for Jaline.
444 reviews1,603 followers
March 7, 2018
What a spell Willa Cather weaves in this, the final book of her Great Plains Trilogy, sometimes known as the Prairie Trilogy. This novel, more than any of the two previous novels, reminded me absurdly yet so strongly of Kent Haruf’s novels. Absurdly? Yes – their time frame is separated by a few generations and their locations separated by a few States in-between. Yet, it is the atmosphere created, the way the stories are told simply yet clearly and with great feeling – these are the qualities that make me want to hug these books.

I had tears running down my cheeks a few times in this book. One incident that moved me very strongly was when 20 year old Jim and 24 year old Antonia say goodbye before he heads off East toward his destiny. The way the setting was described and how they shared that moment together - their last time together until twenty years into the future - was so beautifully poignant it just moved my soul.

Once again, Willa Cather’s skill as a writer, her ability to create brilliantly coloured moving pictures with her words, and her keen insight into the hearts and souls of many diverse characters shines in this novel. I cared so much about these people, about the hardships they endured, about the successes they celebrated, and about the losses they mourned.

Willa Cather can move a story forward more during one paragraph than many writers can in a chapter – and she does so with in-depth character insight as well as vivid descriptions and flowing plots. I love this book and recommend it to everyone who enjoys beautiful literature that has no need to draw attention to itself; it just is. And to experience it is sublime.
Profile Image for Fabian.
940 reviews1,546 followers
February 2, 2020
This Nebraskan prairie civilization is like the dogtown that lives below it. It is a web of families & favors. And that's the way of life. Antonia, the magnetic and emblematic figure in the middle of it all--in this narrative of remembrance, of singular impressions--is a strong rock, a hardworking beacon of goodness in a world that is simultaneously vast & asphyxiating, with its rattlesnakes, sicknesses, suicides and slight silver linings. Also a sight to behold: the kindness of strangers & how falling in love cannot possibly occur in the prairie, that ever-desolate place within our very own American continent.
Profile Image for Ines.
317 reviews185 followers
October 1, 2019
I am absolutely convinced that I have fallen in love with Cather’s writing, she abducts you with the detailed descriptions of the landscapes and with the characters of her stories, creating a real addiction to your soul...
In this work we find the destiny of Bohemian and Scandinavian families struggling with the hard life and survival in the new world, precisely in Nebraska and Kansas.
Cather will make us discover the saga of the Shimeda family, of which Antonia belongs to and the Harling family, through the narration reported by Cather's real friend,Jim Burden.
Jim will be a living witness to the joys, sorrows and hardships of these people’s lives, how they were considered and treated by the inhabitants of Black Hawk, a town close to the farms where these immigrants came to live. Everything revolves around the girls of these families, and through Jim’s life we will be accompanied to discover their destinies. I tell you, Cather writes how very few manage to do, such wealth and ability to get to the exact concept and deep meaning of events as very few authors of her time were able to donate to the readers... this work though, I found her a little pedantic and not very exciting compared to "Death come for the Archbishop".
Instead I was moved to read a whole elegy of full knowledge of classical studies through the university life of Jim, where he will face the study of Homer, Virgil and a thorough of Latin's study. Wow, my hat’s off to Cather and her deep knowledge of the classics!!
I’m so sorry, instead of getting attached to Antonia, my concern was more about figuring out what happened to the narrator, our friend Jim, the one who should had have a hidden figure in the story...

Sono assolutamente convinta di essermi innamorata della scrittura della Cather, ti rapisce e le descrizioni minuziose dei paesaggi e dei personaggi delle sue storie mi/ti creano una vera dipendenza...
In questa opera troviamo la vita di famiglie boeme e scandinave alle prese con la dura vita e la sopravvivenza nel nuovo mondo, precisamente in Nebraska e nel Kansas..
Cather ci farà scoprire la saga della famiglia Shimeda, cui Antonia appartiene e della famiglia Harling, attraverso la narrazione riportata da un suo amico Jim Burden.
Jim sarà quindi testimone vivente delle gioie, dei dolori e difficoltà della vita di queste persone... di come venivano considerati e trattati dagli abitanti di Black Hawk, cittadina vicina alle fattorie dove arrivarono a vivere questi immigrati. Il tutto gira intorno alle ragazze di queste famiglie,e traverso la vita di Jim saremo accompagnati a scoprire i loro destini..
Lo dico, la Cather scrive come pochi riescono a fare, una tale ricchezza e capacità di arrivare all'esatto concetto e significato profondo degli avvenimenti come ben pochi autori del suo periodo sono riusciti a fare... quest' opera però, l' ho trovata un pochino pedante e ben poco appassionante rispetto a "Death come for the Archbishop".
Mi sono invece commossa nel leggere tutta l' elegia di piena conoscenza degli studi classici attraverso la vita universitaria di Jim, dove affronterà lo studio di Omero, Virgilio e un approfondito studio del Latino. Caspita, tanto di cappello alla Cather e della sua profonda conoscenza dei classici!!
Mi spiace un sacco,a invece di affezionarmi ad Antonia, la mia preoccupazione era piu' sul capire cosa capitasse al narratore, il nostro amico Jim, che altro doveva avere che una figura nascosta della storia...
Profile Image for Jason Koivu.
Author 7 books1,209 followers
November 4, 2019
Here lie glorious character sketches. Be sure to pay your respects.

I dragged my feet. I came late to the party. I regret it.

This is one of those books I've known about for ages, but was ignorant and flat out mistaken about its subject matter. A friend in college wrote a poem based off of it and my impression from that experience was that My Antonia was about a man describing a woman for the length of an entire novel. That would be a gross oversimplification of the book. It's so much more than that.

It's one of the stories that America is founded upon: Immigrants who've left their homeland on the promise of a better life in the new world. The "new world" America in this case meant the far midwest, those lonely plains at the foot of the Rockies. The immigrants this time around are Czechs, referred to as Bohemians in the novel. Some of them didn't start out in this country with much and lived a hardscrabble life once they arrived. Ah, what people are willing to endure for the hope of something better.


I cherish books like this and The Jungle or The Grapes of Wrath, where immigrants or earlier Americans gave it their all for the dream and often died trying. Whether it's victory or defeat it doesn't matter, it's the struggle that counts. Fiction this may be, but the story is a real one. My own family came to America from Finland about the same time this book is set. They farmed the land and found hard times, but they survived. Hearing those stories is a true marvel to behold.

Willa Cather tells her own, truly marvelous tales in My Antonia. Her people are born from precision craftsmanship that refrains from the ponderous "grocery list" descriptions of physical traits and habits of characters that other writers indulge in. Instead Cather cuts to the essence of the person with excellent word choice time and again, planting in the reader's mind fruitful, full-color images of exactly who she's talking about.

As alluded to at the start of this review, this novel is all about the character sketches. They move the story, much the same way as Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio. However, since the characters come alive and are so very lively, the lack of a hard-driven, singular plot is no hinderance to one's enjoyment of My Antonia.
Profile Image for Andy Marr.
Author 2 books675 followers
March 3, 2023
This was a fantastic book with a truly brilliant cast of characters. Cather's writing reads like poetry, and the pacing is just wonderful. I'm really glad I read this!
Profile Image for Michael.
657 reviews966 followers
March 25, 2020
A plainspoken account of turn-of-the-century life on the Nebraskan prairie, told from the perspective of an East Coast businessman recounting his childhood in the Midwest. The coming-of-age novel centers on the lifelong friendship between the affluent narrator, Jim Burden, and his former neighbor Ántonia Shimerda, a Bohemian immigrant whose family struggled to assimilate into the American mainstream. The novel starts off shakily, slow moving and full of stereotypes, but turns into a thoughtful reflection on the hardships of immigrant life, rural labor, and womanhood.
Profile Image for Dolors.
524 reviews2,177 followers
October 22, 2017
“Some memories are realities, and are better than anything that can ever happen to one again.” (p.259)

More than a Wild West story about the adventurous frontier life in the Nebraska plains, I thought My Ántonia was a novel about red seas of prairie grass and hard blue skies and black ploughs outlined against crimson suns and adults chasing the casted shadows of their pasts. Prior to the comforting embrace of the Nebraskan landscape there was only the most profound homesickness. Homesickness for an abandoned country, for lost parents, for the wistfulness of bygone childhood days, for words never uttered and love never fully declared.
Willa Cather’s evocative voice builds a new home for the reader in this strange yet welcoming land, which turns the mundane into gold, while mourning for the loss of a past that won’t ever come back.
Cather opens the novel meeting her own character Jim Burden and inviting him to recount the story of Ántonia Shimmerda, a young Czech girl who grew up with him, and surprises the reader with an unexpected male voice and an unreliable narrator. Jim, now a middle aged lawyer living in New York, retells their story casting an aura of nostalgia over the late 19thC Nebraska farming frontier, its landscape, colorful people and small towns.

Jim is barely ten years old when he loses his parents and is sent to live with his grandparents in an unfamiliar territory. Ántonia’s longing for her original home in Bohemia is made unbearably real through her awareness of her father’s misery in failing to adjust to a new hard working life in an foreign country, whose people and culture seem alien and rough to the cultivated Mr.Shimmerda. This doubled feeling of homesickness is what so powerfully fastens Jim and Ántonia together and what urges them to turn to the Nebraskan landscape in search of protection, developing an intense attachment to the natural world which captures their changing moods and eases their sense of estrangement, always in tune with the changing of the seasons.

When the Burdens move to the small town of Black Hawk and Ántonia is recruited as a “hired girl” at the Harlings, a household with good reputation in town, Jim realizes that along with the missing plains, his closeness to Ántonia also starts to dissolve. Cather’s nuanced stories and picturesque tales disguise the impending collision between the hard reality of young immigrant women at the time, who were treated as outcasts in a rigid social caste system and not only exploited but also sexually abused by their masters, and the wide range of opportunities for young men like Jim, whose main aspiration is to attend college. Life and years intervene and Jim and Ántonia’s paths diverge but their spiritual bond remains locked in the lengthening shadows of a common past embedded in the fleecy grass dancing with the gentle morning breeze that caresses the wine-stained prairies.

Cather’s writing style taught me a valuable lesson. Genuineness and diction thrive in simplicity. Never had my heartstrings been pulled this intensely until I heard Blind d’Arnault’s melancholic negro voice and his virtuous fingers running up and down the keys of his piano while rocking back and forth to the rhythm of his improvized bluesy spirit. Never had I felt the stillness of a slanting sun sinking behind the fields playing with magnified shadows as I did when I was sitting with Jim and Ántonia in perfect communion with the countryside. Never had I understood the true meaning of the kinship between hard work and fertility until I met its embodiment in a woman browned by the sun, with calloused hands and flat chest, an Earth Goddess who made a home out of a dusty land and a sheltering sky.
My Ántonia made also a home for me in the Nebraska plains of the late 1800s and then made me grieve for its loss. I might never see those plains but at least I can walk down the path of Jim’s memories of red blades of grass and his Ántonia’s electric blue sky, where their souls remain eternally married in a past that becomes the prevailing reality and their one and only Destiny, and feel that I am home.
Profile Image for Rowena.
500 reviews2,439 followers
July 16, 2015
"There seemed to be nothing to see; no fences, no creeks or trees, no hills or fields. If there was a road, I could not make it out in the faint starlight. There was nothing but land: not a country at all, but the material out of which countries are made."- Willa Cather, My Ántonia

For someone who grew up watching "Little House on the Prairie", this was an interesting and nostalgic look at my childhood fancies and romanticized images of frontier life. Making a new life, taming the land, and creating something out of very little all sounded so romantic and magical to me at the time but there was so much that I hadn't considered, couldn't have known, with my limited worldly experience. I guess that's one of the many reasons that literature is so powerful: giving a voice to experiences.

This is a story of the early settlers in Nebraska; a story of hardships, successes, community, change... The story is narrated by an orphaned boy who goes to live with his grandparents after his parents pass away. The narration was very detailed and observant.

The story focuses quite a bit on Ántonia Shimerda, and her Bohemian family.I thought the character of Ántonia was exceptionally well-written; I think she's one of those unforgettable literary characters, and that's definitely due to Cather's amazing writing and depiction of her. Cather manages to show the language development Ántonia goes through,and also the development of her character from being an ordinary little girl playing with her sister and friends, to working "like a mans" in order to support her family:

"The older girls, who helped to break up the wild sod, learned so much from life, from poverty, from their mothers and grandmothers; they had all, like Antonia, been early awakened and made observant by coming at a tender age from an old country to a new."

Having moved around a bit I really enjoyed the descriptions of the landscapes because at least to me, apart from food, that's what I miss the most about leaving a place: the familiarity in scenery, flora, and fauna. The small differences in landscape are an unavoidable sign that you are in a new place:

"There was 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."

There was interesting discussion about the European immigrants to the USA. What shouldn't have surprised me but did anyway, was the fact that even among the European immigrants there was plenty of discrimination and also an unofficial hierarchy. What was universal though was the sense of loss from all the characters who had migrated to that area, despite their origins and loss.

I'm fully convinced of Cather's writing style. Cather brought the frontier to life for me, the Bohemians, Ántonia, everyone and everything. I loved that she brought to the fore the stories of the people of the New World, especially the women.
Profile Image for Michelle.
147 reviews234 followers
July 3, 2019
“I’d like to have you for a sweetheart, or a wife, or my mother or my sister-anything that a woman can be to a man. The idea of you is a part of my mind. You influence my likes and dislikes, all my tastes, hundreds of times when I don’t realize it. You really are a part of me.”

Oh, Jim! She really did a number on you! I guess it couldn’t be helped, because after knowing Antonia Shimerda, I can’t help being enamored with her myself. It is not even easy to say things so illuminating about a human being but somehow, seeing Antonia from the eyes of Jim Burden, I totally understand where he’s coming from. Antonia exudes strength, spirit and determination, and all the while remains gentle, trusting, and kind. What Jim feels for her goes beyond romantic love, though. She is the embodiment of the things he loves most: home, his childhood, and his aspirations. The way I see it, she is what makes him a better man.
Nevertheless, “My Antonia” is not a love story, it hardly focuses on that aspect at all. With Antonia’s story, we get a glimpse on the lives and concerns of early settlers, which includes European immigrants, of the American West. It shows us what these people have to contend with, and struggle for, that goes to the very heart of their lives.

Now most of the pioneer stories I have come across depict rugged and determined male characters out to tame the wilderness with know-how and grit, while their female halves are relegated to supporting or (I dare say) insignificant roles. “My Antonia” breaks from that convention and instead, focused more on the struggles of the women. It’s an invaluable reminder that life was hard for everyone on the frontier, and that the women who made a go of it were every bit as tough-minded and independent as the men were. Antonia faces hardships of scratching out a living on the prairie, while having to do so as a woman, and while dealing with the challenges of being an immigrant as well.

As with the writing, Willa Cather masterfully tells a poignant and beautiful story that is striking in its simplicity. She makes you realize anew how much art is suggestion and not transcription, and her brevity is refreshing. I know of no novel that makes the remote folk of the Western prairies more real than “My Antonia” makes them, and I know of none that makes them seem better worth knowing. Beneath the layers of Mid-Western culture, she reveals human beings embattled against fate and circumstance -- and into her picture of their dull struggles, I was able to appreciate their heroism, and find their tribulations genuinely moving.
Profile Image for Glenn Sumi.
404 reviews1,520 followers
May 6, 2015

My rating for My Ántonia? 5 stars shining brightly in the cloudless Nebraska sky, so vividly and lovingly evoked by Willa Cather in this elegiac novel about farmers and immigrant settlers making lives for themselves in the harsh, beautiful, bountiful prairies.

(Sorry about that graceless run-on incomplete sentence. Cather, with her clear, descriptive, unpretentious prose, would never commit such a sin.)

Some people and places are forever etched in our memories. Can you recall the landscapes of your childhood? The fields or sidewalks where you'd play? Do you have friends who – even if you see them decades later – you still remember as young? Have you ever seen a sparkle in a child’s eye that reminds you of his or her parent?

Cather makes you think of all that. And much more.

On the surface, it’s the tale of Jim Burden’s friendship/quasi-obsession with Ántonia (pronounced Anton-ee-ah) Schimerda, the oldest child of a Bohemian (Czech) immigrant family that moves to a neighbouring farm that’s really a hole in the ground.

Through Jim’s eyes, in a series of episodes, we follow Ántonia, from scrappy farm helper to hard-working “hired girl” in town (there was a tradition for immigrant girls to work in town to send money to their families) to restless charismatic young woman with a talent for dance to… well, I don’t want to spoil the plot, such as it is.

The book provides a fascinating look at various European immigrant communities in that era. Sometimes a scene will consist of a character simply telling a story to entertain others (remember, this was a time before TV and radio). Cather, a lesbian who never married, also offers up a glimpse into the lives of strong, determined women in a hardscrabble world dominated by men.

A gentle, nostalgic feeling suffuses the book, and it’s full of love and affection for the industry and ethos of a bygone era. It’s not all pleasant, however. There’s suicide, cheating, death by wild animals, attempted rape, and lots and lots of mournful longing – as symbolized by the lonesome chugging of a train.

Here's a passage, from early on in the book:

I wanted to walk straight on through the red grass and over the edge of the world, which could not be very far away. The light air about me told me that the world ended here: only the ground and sun and sky were left, and if one went a little farther there would be only sun and sky, and one would float off into them, like the tawny hawks which sailed over our heads making slow shadows on the grass.

Simple, unfussy, evocative. I’ve never been to Nebraska. But Cather’s powers of description are so strong, I now feel like I have. And I look forward to a repeat visit in her other prairie books, O Pioneers! and The Song Of The Lark.
Profile Image for Ted.
515 reviews744 followers
November 19, 2015

… more than anything else I felt motion in the landscape; in the fresh, easy-blowing morning wind, and in the earth itself, as if the shaggy grass were a sort of loose hide, and underneath it herds of wild buffalo were galloping, galloping …

High Plains mixed-grass prairie during springtime. Near Harrison, Nebraska.
From Flickr, by https://www.flickr.com/photos/terrano...

Willa Cather

Willa Cather – born 1873 near Winchester Virginia. Her family moved to Nebraska in 1883 when she was nine, joining her father’s parents out there. After trying farming for eighteen months, they moved into the town of Red Cloud where her dad developed real estate and insurance businesses, and Willa went to school for the first time. “Cather's time in the western state, still on the frontier, was a deeply formative experience for her. She was intensely moved by the dramatic environment and weather, the vastness of the Nebraska prairie, and the various cultures of the families in the area.” (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willa_Ca... for more details on Cather’s early life.)

Will Cather, ca. 1912

Prior to 1918, when My Antonia appeared, Cather, then in her mid-40s, had published six books:
- April Twilights (1903, poetry collection)
- The Troll Garden (1905, short stories)
- the study (co-authored with Georgine Milmine) The Life of Mary Baker G. Eddy and the History of Christian Science (1909)
and the novels
- Alexander's Bridge (1912)
- O Pioneers! (1913)
- The Song of the Lark (1915)

My Antonia and the previous two novels are known as Cather’s “prairie trilogy”. These novels, which became both popular and critical successes, are set in a time and locale which Cather knew from her own experience and memories, and established her reputation as a significant American writer.

Cather won the Pulitzer Prize in 1923 for her next novel, One of Ours, published in 1922. Throughout the 1920s she was praised by other writers such as H. L. Mencken and Sinclair Lewis.

She continued to publish novels and other fiction into the 1940s. Willa Cather died in 1947.

My Antonia

My Antonia is narrated in the first person, by a character named Jim Burden. Cather employs a rather modernist, to me, conceit by introducing the book, in her own voice, as a manuscript produced by an “old friend” of hers, who had grown up with her in the same small town in Nebraska. Having met “last summer” on a train crossing Iowa, they talked for many hours, and their conversation “kept returning to a central figure, a Bohemian girl whom we had both known long ago.”
More than any other person we remembered, this girl seemed to mean to us the country, the conditions, the whole adventure of our childhood. I had lost sight of her altogether, but Jim had found her again after long years, and had renewed a friendship that meant a great deal to him. His mind was full of her that day. He made me see her again, feel her presence, revived all my old affection for her.
Jim had been writing down memories of her, and several months afterwards shows up at Cather’s Manhattan apartment with the manuscript. Which is ostensibly the novel we are about to read.

The manuscript, on which he scrawls “My Antonia” as he hands it to Cather, is “Jim Burden’s” memoir of the years he spent in this small Nebraska town prior to leaving it for the east around the age of twenty, including his memories of an immigrant girl just older than he, who arrived with her Bohemian family on the same train as he did – Antonia Shimerda. It is, as well, memories of the pioneer farmers who first came to Nebraska (some “American Europeans”, others recent immigrants like the Shimerdas); of the immense treeless prairie and climate they found, of the small town around which these farms ranged, of the ways of life on the farms and in the town.

Willa Cather and her narrator Jim Burden, the character introduced as the writer by the real writer, have a lot in common. Both were born in Virginia, Cather in 1873. Both moved to Nebraska around the age of ten (Cather in 1883), and in both cases the move was directed towards (or to, in Jim’s case) a grandparent. Both lived on a farm for the early part of their Nebraska years, then both moved into a small nearby town (Black Hawk in the novel, Red Cloud in Cather’s case) around the time they were ready to start high school.

These similarities cause me to conclude that, if one wants Jim Burden’s year of birth, one may as well assume it’s the same as Willa Cather’s, 1873. I further believe that Jim Burden may as well be Will Cather herself. Not, of course, that the details of Jim’s life correspond to details of Cather’s life. Rather that the things that deeply affect Jim Burden are the same things that deeply affected Cather, as she grew up in a small town just like Black Hawk, knowing and knowing of the immigrant families that had come to America and thence to Nebraska to farm the prairie.

Cather’s book is filled with achingly beautiful passages about all of these things. I could quote them until I ran out of review room here, but after trying to write this review for hours and thousands of words I realize I can’t say everything I want about the novel, and in trying to say everything I say little or nothing.

And in searching for a single passage to quote, I realize that what I think beautiful will only be so because of my own personal memories of related things, and will strike others as “nice” or “banal” or whatever. So I give up on that.

So I’ll simply assure you, reader, that your own memories and experiences will find their counterparts in Cather’s / Burden’s memories – if you have memories of a prairie, or of seasons, or of such things as your wonder at discovering the love of learning at university, or of seeing or discovering a work of art (a painting, a symphony, an opera) at that exact moment in your life when you were simply overwhelmed by it; or memories of feelings you had when you were young, of another young person; or memories of the admiration you felt for perhaps a grandparent - or perhaps a pioneer girl, a bit older than you, who showed a fire for life totally different from all the others you knew.

To summarize: Jim Burden’s fictional memories are, I believe, Willa Cather’s real memories – and again, not the details, but the general colors and outline of the painting which is suggested by the novel, a painting which might as well be this.

If you think this beautiful, you will probably think My Antonia beautiful too.
Profile Image for Madeline.
771 reviews47k followers
September 14, 2017
Like The Great Gatsby, I somehow avoided having to read this in high school, although I remember a lot of my friends reading Cather's book for Honors English while I was suffering through Summer of My German Soldier in regular people English. (Turns out, even if you're a voracious teenage reader, they still don't let you take honors classes if you spend your entire high school career constantly being one bad quiz away from straight-up flunking whatever math class you're in at the time) I don't remember my friends having much to say about My Antonia specifically, but I remember that they...didn't love it.

Which isn't surprising, honestly. Cather's book is, based just on the plot description, a deeply dull story with barely any actual plot: Jim Burton looks back on his childhood in frontier America, and specifically his lifelong friendship with a Czech immigrant named Antonia. There are little bits of drama here and there, like when two Russian immigrants share the truly horrifying reason they had to leave their home country, and Antonia lives a life of quiet, constant struggle and suffering that Jim either doesn't feel the need to point out, or just doesn't notice.

It's the writing that saves the book, and is the reason this is considered such a classic. Cather's prose gives us perfect descriptions of the prairie setting, and she's able to expertly use just a handful of well-chosen words to fully illustrate her characters. Antonia will stay with you long after you finish the book.

So it's a real shame that the subject of the book doesn't get to tell her own story in her own words. I'm sure there's a very good reason that Cather makes Jim her narrator, and has him show the reader Antonia through his eyes (did Cather suspect that it would be hard for a woman to sell a book where a woman tells us about her own life? Ugh, probably), but this also means that Antonia can only ever exist to us as Jim saw her.

At least Jim's not a bad narrator, overall. For the majority of the book I was enjoying myself, if only for the nice Little House on the Prairie nostalgia, but the story starts to nosedive around the time that Jim becomes an adolescent. Suddenly his complete inability to notice the abuse that Antonia suffers is more of a problem, as he's now old enough to be aware of these things. (Haha Jim, remember that time you found out that Antonia's employer had been planning to sneak into her room and rape her? Probably not, because no one ever talked about it after that scene) Jim starts behaving like a self-centered little shit - ie, a teenager - and it's not fun to watch Antonia's life through his eyes anymore. There's a lot of talk about the dances that are happening in town, and Jim starts going around with girls while internally griping about Antonia hanging out with the wrong boy.

The worst part comes towards the end, when Jim has been away at college (and fucking around with Lena Lingard, who is both awesome and way too good for Jim), and then comes home and tells Antonia that he loves her.

And then he leaves again, and doesn't come back for twenty years. Our hero really goes the extra mile to explain this to his readers, using a whopping two words to justify why he confessed his feelings to this poor girl and then didn't see her for two decades: "Life intervened."

It is at this point that My Antonia turns into Lamentations of a Fuckboy by Jim Burton. He eventually learns that while he was away, Antonia got engaged to some dude who then abandoned her, leaving her pregnant and unmarried. Jim is "disappointed" in Antonia. Because Jim sucks.

But she gets her life together, because Antonia is awesome, and when Jim finally comes back for a visit (he puts it off for a long time, because "I did not want to find her aged and broken"), she has a loving husband, a successful farm, and a ton of kids who adore her. All we know about adult Jim is that he's married, and the original narrator of the book doesn't like his wife.

I really wish I'd gotten to read this book from Antonia's point of view. This is the story of a woman who immigrated to the United States as a child, speaking barely any English, and had to figure out how to survive with her family on the unforgiving frontier. Her father killed himself when she was young (or was maybe murdered? There's a little bit of suspicion surrounded the neighbor, and then it's dropped entirely), and she suffers abuse at the hands of her brother, her employer, and then her fiance. She has a child out of wedlock, but never tries to hide it, and bravely continues to live in her hometown with her child, ignoring the judgement and the rumors. Eventually she meets and marries a good man, who doesn't care that she already has a child, and she finally gets her farm and her family, and her happy ending. I wanted Antonia to tell me her story, not have it filtered through the perspective of her friend.

And frankly, y'all, it pisses me off that this is called My Antonia. It reminds me, of all things, of an exchange from one of the Bond movies. Bond is bantering with Moneypenny and says, "Ah, Moneypenny, what would I do without you?" To which she replies, "Oh James. You've never had me."

Honestly. It's like if Drake wrote a song called "My Rihanna."

(no I will not apologize for that metaphor. Suck it, Honors English!)
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Zoeytron.
1,028 reviews661 followers
April 16, 2020
Black Hawk, Nebraska.  Late 1880's or so, when the West was still wild.  This particular area is amply populated with immigrants from Bohemia, Norway, and Sweden, most of them living in sod houses.  All with their own prejudices, but most finding common ground with each other at some point.  The threat of rattlesnakes, coyotes, and Mother Nature's atrocities does not differentiate between them, all are fair game.  

Back in the early 80's, my husband and I bought a selection of 100 classics from The Franklin Library.  A copy would be sent to us every month or so, costing a modest $25 or so dollars (as best as we can remember).  They were all leather bound with thick gilt-edged vellum pages, a pleasure to hold in your hands.  My Antonia was included in this bounty, and now, some 40 years later, I have finally read it.
Profile Image for Hugh.
1,254 reviews49 followers
July 9, 2017
It is a daunting task to find anything fresh to say about a book that is justifiably regarded as a classic, so I will keep this one fairly short.

Willa Cather moved with her family from New England to rural Nebraska as a child, at a time when new farmland there was still being pioneered, so this tale of the state's development and specifically the experiences of the first generation immigrant farming families from Eastern Europe and Scandinavia that settled it, is inevitably coloured by her own experiences. She distances herself cleverly by making her narrator Jim Burden a man of her own age who for quite a large part of the book retains some distance from its heroine Ántonia, but who was also her childhood friend and neighbour.

The story is beautifully paced and contains nothing superfluous. Cather's Nebraska is vividly realised and her attitudes to her characters and particularly those who fall foul of conventional moral judgments seem very modern for a book first published in 1918. For the most part she avoids sentimentality too, except perhaps a little in the final chapter, which seems forgiveable. It was also interesting to read a story that is so positive about immigration at a time when there is so much paranoia about it in popular political culture.
Profile Image for Himanshu.
73 reviews224 followers
November 22, 2015

That's how her name is pronounced, and not like An'-tow-niya which is how I always thought it was. I found this clarification, at the very start of the book, remarkable(for me) because it changed the way I read about her, till the very last page. At every mention of her name, my mind tried to pronounce it the Bohemian way, thus, never letting me forget the eccentricity and congeniality of this unforgettable character.

I have somehow spent almost a month reading this little book and in that course a lot of people around me asked what sort of a book this was? What's it about? And, I never had the same answer for any two of them. Sometimes, it was about the Bohemian migrant family; Sometimes about the flat, windy, golden, snow-clad, rather indelible prairie; Sometimes about the narrator Jim Burden; Sometimes about me; Sometimes about nostalgia; Sometimes about romanticism; And sometimes about struggles that one goes through and what they come out of them to become.

A young ten year old Jim, after losing his parents in Virginia, comes to stay with his grandparents in a country farm in Nebraska. He sees the landscape and is taken so deeply by it that it no longer is just the backdrop of his new life, but the very foundation of it. His undirected strolls in the prairie made him feel at home and at peace.

The light air about me told me that the world ended here: only the ground and sun and sky were left, and if one went a little farther, there would be only sun and sky, and one would float off into them, like the tawny hawks which sailed over our heads making slow shadows on the grass.

I recently made a short trip to a place long from home, but with a prodigious landscape that I felt spoke to me directly and was like a new-found friend. I found this very strange and I wondered how could I feel such a strong connection with a boundless space? Then I met Jim sitting idly against a haystack on a field wondering:

I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.

The farms, the fields, the burrows, the cattle, the seasons and his Ántonia. When he first met her, she was a little girl with eyes which seemed big and warm and full of light, like the sun shining on brown pools in the wood. This brown skinned, wild curly haired chirrup, coaxingly took his hand and ran with him to a steep drawside to show him a nondescript view. And this did not change even when they both get old and Jim visits her after a long time of hardship and tooth fall. She shows it all to him, her children and her life. Oh Ántonia, how I wished that you got the best in the world, and how you never cared and made the best of what came along.

What more detail can I give here to do justice to this meta-biographical gem by Cather. All of the nitty gritties seem pointless. The more I dig deep, the more I see her(Cather's) feats of drawing out characters with such prudence that not one of them can now be faded with the sleight of time. Ántonia's father, Lena, the two Russians and their guilt, Jack and Otto, the Cutters, and everyone else.

In the end what remains with me is one more thing other than those images of prairies and a strong feeling of nostalgia. Jim, at the University of Nebraska, while studying Virgil's Georgics, was informed that when Virgil was near death, Aeneid unfinished, he would have found consolation with having written that perfect Georgics and would have thought, with the thankfulness of a good man, "I was first to bring the Muse into my country". Just like Cather would have, when she moved to Nebraska and wrote this beauty about a place which was like a blank spot on the map of America.

[I should thank Stephanie Vaughn for directing me towards that last bit through her brilliant introduction to this book]
Profile Image for Diane Barnes.
1,231 reviews451 followers
May 22, 2021
I can't even express how much I love this book. A re-read for me after many years, it made me feel the same way now as it did then. I had such a peaceful feeling of comfort and belonging while reading, as though I knew these people and this land. Willa Cather is an artist when she writes about the Midwest, her words come straight from her soul. A top five favorite novel for me.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
464 reviews583 followers
January 16, 2015
She makes me revel in the beauty of four seasons: burning summers when the world lies green and billowy beneath a brilliant sky...the color and smell of strong weeds and heavy harvests; blustery winters with little snow, when the whole country is stripped bare and gray as sheet-iron. I read her and I forsake all others, for she tells me that no one can give the sensation of place through narrative, and also deliver such soul-stirring and wistful storytelling quite like she can.

She gives me quiet country in the form of a first person narrative mode that keeps me so invested that for a week, I live in the head of Jim, a man looking back at his boyhood in a prairie town, and suddenly, there I am, next to him, in scenic reverie, I had the feeling that the world was left behind, that we had got over the edge of it, and were outside man's jurisdiction...This was the complete doom of heaven, all there was of it. As I read through each chapter, she gives me nostalgia for the quiet country I've had the honor of experiencing, when I lived in the belly of the Appalachian mountains (which at some point was considered a part of the American frontier that Cather writes about).

She gives me Ántonia, always to carry with me; the closest, realest face, under all the shadows of women's faces, at the very bottom of my memory, for through Ántonia, she gives me women's issues; unassuming, yet audacious. Through Lena, Ántonia's friend and Jim's lover, she gives me feminism; subtle and sure. Her [Cather's] thoughts on feminism are also mine:"she was more interested in asserting her right to participate in a male literary tradition than in promoting an alternative female canon." When she uses a male narrator who is a bit of a recluse because she wants to "imagine a man's feelings for Antonia," I'm exhilarated by the creative choice. And when she creates a narrative to compare the lives of these women, she gives me two of my favorite books on women: Night and Day and So Long a Letter.

When she gives me Bohemia and Scandinavia, and the portrait of an unassimilated immigrant household, she showcases cultural dubiousness, and brings back memories of my own immigrant struggles of years ago:
If I told my schoolmates that Lena Lingard's father was a clergyman, and much respected in Norway, they looked at me blankly. What did it matter? All foreigners were ignorant people who couldn't speak English. There was not a man in Black Hawk who had the intelligence or cultivation, much less the personal distinction, of Antonia's father. Yet people saw no difference between her and the three Marys; they were all Boheminans, all hired girls.

At the end, when she shows me the unpredictability of life and I am tempted to pity Ántonia, she assures me that Ántonia is not broken, but still there, in the full vigor of her personality, battered but not diminished, rather, she has found in America, what she wanted in Bohemia.

She gives me pastoral literature in its simple, subtle, and structured form, leaving me much to ponder about life and love and happiness:
I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.
Profile Image for Jan-Maat.
1,535 reviews1,793 followers
September 29, 2019
Well, a strange book.

The author starts off by denying that she is the author. Not my story, no sirree, I have no responsibility what so ever for what happens between those pages, nuthin' to do with me, it's these guys you see having a gossip on a railway carriage, one of them narrates the scene and the other one, well he's the one who writes the story.

Having asserted her distance from the narrative, she is free to write what ever she wants. What she wants is a bit strange. The narration is meant to be recollections about Antonia a Czech girl, from an immigrant family to Nebraska, who both of the narrators knew as young people. The narrative is divided into sections and although the narrative is meant to be about Antonia, she features mostly in the last section, a little bit in the first and less in the others. In the last section Antonia emerges most strongly, not as an individual but as a type, a mother of nations, perhaps she is the shape of things to come, sun -browned, capable, hard working, undaunted, a farmer's wife, mother to many, and a Grandmother. I don't really see why or how the young antonia made such a powerful impression on the two male narrators who open the story, made that's the point, functionally she and the framing narrators feelings for her are the key that opens the tin of sardines.

With and without Antonia (and she is mostly absent or in the background) the book is a lyrical evocation of life in Nebraska towards the end of the nineteenth century, a fictionalisation of Willa Cather's own childhood, with a special focus on the women and girls. Apart from the gender bending such as Antonia slipping her silver ring on to Jim's (ie the author's) finger - an act of engagement which he rejects. This is no rural idyll, there is suicide followed by uncertainty over where the deceased can be buried, people make money through trickery, selling up to the next bunch of know-nothing new comers at inflated prices or by adding unagreed extras to dressmaking, general sharp dealing in the hotel trade, a man might sigh with longing over the chance of getting rich in Mexico by double charging poor travellers on the railway. Inbetween you try and survive the winters, trickery naturally leads to illegitimate babies too - our Antonia is the proud mother of one of these.

Those keenest to escape rural drudgery move to the coast to open boarding houses for sailors and up sticks to the Klondike with the goldrush with a view to providing support services.

A key moment I felt was narrator Jim Burden reading Virgil's Georgics and as Virgil through poetry preserved his native region for posterity, so to Cather ,through Burden, makes Nebraska a realm of the muses. A place of murder- suicides, slippery gender roles, and giant snakes whose threatening phallic symbolism is easily crushed with a handy shovel (or possibly a spade) . Her's is a restless America, settling is contingent, one can move on and almost everybody does, it's a land of migrants, some more recent than others - a layer cake though rather than a melting pot. Identity is difference, all honourably preserved here.

In the end Jim Burden, narrator, escapes or comes to terms with nomen ist omen : The feelings of that night were so near that I could reach out and touch them with my hand. I had the sense of coming home to myself. and of having found out what a little circle man's experience is. For Antonia and me, this had been the road of Destiny; had taken us to those early accidents of fortune which predetermined for us all that we can ever be. Now I understood that the same road was to bring us together again. Whatever we had missed, we possessed together the precious , the incommunicable past( p.196) as I said, strange a communication device - the book - asserting to us that something is incommunicable, a bildungsroman constructed out of the lives of others, a cunning casket snaps shut.
Profile Image for Margitte.
1,146 reviews502 followers
April 5, 2017
Two old friends meet on a train. They grew up together in the same town, and lived in the same city, New York, although they hardly ever saw each other there. They decided to do an unusual thing. They would write down their memories of one particular girl. In a community filled with the good, the bad and the unbelievable, she unknowingly became the primary color in many people's pictures of their lives on the remote prairies of Nebraska. She simply refused to fade away in anyone's memories.

Middle-aged James Quayle Burden (Jim Burden), a successful lawyer for one of the big Western railways, delivered his memoir in an envelope on which he first wrote 'Antonia', but then changed it to 'My Antonia' to reflect his own memories of a girl who had the fire of life in her eyes.

She was like the wind dancing in waves over the prairie grass, leaving the impression that the world was constantly running. She was pretty, vivacious, generous. She was Mother Earth personified with a positive, energetic ambiance all around her, like lost warm rays of the sun spreading over the cold snowy landscape. She was laughter, and kindness, and the epitome of joie de vivre, while the harsh treatment of her neurotic, cruel mother and her jealous brother who made her work in the fields on neighboring farms like a man, never seemed to stop her from being who she was.

In her heart she kept the memory of her educated father alive. He was a respected violinist and philosopher in his own country. He was her muse. Who would not want to remember a childhood friend like Antonia Shimerda?

The memoir that Jim left on his friend's table, began when he was a ten-year-old orphan from Virginia. He was on his way by train to live with his grandparents, Josiah and Emmeline Burden, in the remote outskirts of Nebraska. At the train station in Black Hawk, he encountered the Shimerdas, a Bohemian immigrant family, who were heading into the same unknown dark night. They would become his grandparents' neighbors.

The cold journey by wagon through the nocturnal landscape becomes the metaphor for what lay ahead for himself in life.
"I do not remember crossing the Missouri River, or anything about the long day’s journey through Nebraska. Probably by that time I had crossed so many rivers that I was dull to them. The only thing very noticeable about Nebraska was that it was still, all day long, Nebraska" ...

"The immigrants rumbled off into the empty darkness, and we followed them..."

"I tried to go to sleep, but the jolting made me bite my tongue, and I soon began to ache all over. When the straw settled down I had a hard bed. Cautiously I slipped from under the buffalo hide, got up on my knees and peered over the side of the wagon. There seemed to be nothing to see; no fences, no creeks or trees, no hills or fields. If there was a road, I could not make it out in the faint starlight. There was nothing but land: not a country at all, but the material out of which countries are made. No, there was nothing but land—slightly undulating, I knew, because often our wheels ground against the brake as we went down into a hollow and lurched up again on the other side.

I had the feeling that the world was left behind, that we had got over the edge of it, and were outside man’s jurisdiction. I had never before looked up at the sky when there was not a familiar mountain ridge against it. But this was the complete dome of heaven, all there was of it.

I did not believe that my dead father and mother were watching me from up there; they would still be looking for me at the sheep-fold down by the creek, or along the white road that led to the mountain pastures. I had left even their spirits behind me. The wagon jolted on, carrying me I knew not whither. I don’t think I was homesick. If we never arrived anywhere, it did not matter. Between that earth and that sky I felt erased, blotted out. I did not say my prayers that night: here, I felt, what would be would be."
Jim was a peripheral onlooker into the lives of the people around him. He had a keen eye for detail.

The warmth and color, splashed out over the gray landscape of his life with his eldery grandparents, came from the unique characters he would meet during his three years on the farm, and then a short stay in town where his grandparents retired before he left for college.
"In the morning, when I was fighting my way to school against the wind, I couldn’t see anything but the road in front of me; but in the late afternoon, when I was coming home, the town looked bleak and desolate to me. The pale, cold light of the winter sunset did not beautify—it was like the light of truth itself.

When the smoky clouds hung low in the west and the red sun went down behind them, leaving a pink flush on the snowy roofs and the blue drifts, then the wind sprang up afresh, with a kind of bitter song, as if it said: “This is reality, whether you like it or not. All those frivolities of summer, the light and shadow, the living mask of green that trembled over everything, they were lies, and this is what was underneath. This is the truth.” It was as if we were being punished for loving the loveliness of summer. [pg 198]
Where the natural landscape around him turned gray and stale in winter, another source of color would come from the church's stained-glass windows, the lights bursting from the homes at night, and the warm merry sounds of music lingering everywhere in the hearts of the inhabitants.

Their neighbor in town, Mrs. Harling and her five children, all played the piano. Mrs. Harling herself played the old operas, such as “Martha,” “Norma,” and “Rigoletto”. Sally, the tomboy in the family, drummed out the plantation melodies of the negro minstrel troupes who visited town. Nina loved the Swedish wedding Marches.

Mr. Samson D’Arnault from the Far South, a Blind former slave and pianist, spread himself out over the piano down at Kirkpatrick's hotel. The Boys’ Home was the best hotel on Jimmy's branch of the Burlington. D’Arnault crashed out waltzes and dance music and old plantation songs, while the boys gathered around him and sang along.

Anson Kirkpatrick, the dapper, homely as a monkey Irishman, played airs from musical comedies.

All would change when the dancing pavillion of the cheerful-looking Italian couple, Mr. and Mrs. Vanni, came into town during a long hot summer season.
"First the deep purring of Mr. Vanni’s harp came in silvery ripples through the blackness of the dusty-smelling night; then the violins fell in—one of them was almost like a flute. They called so archly, so seductively, that our feet hurried toward the tent of themselves. Why hadn’t we had a tent before? [pg 224]
It would become the great equalizer in town, where the white-handed, high-collared clerks and bookkeepers allowed themselves to dance with the 'hired girls', who were generally regarded as dangerous as high explosives by the townsfolk. Those dangerous girls included the Bohemian Marys, Lena Lingard and Tiny Soderball. They were all Jimmy's childhood friends out on the farms, and enjoyed pivotal roles in his decisions.

Life played itself out on the prairies, where the soil was tilled and planted, the winds raged over the fields, and girls worked as hard as their families to celebrate prosperity when it finally came. They were the color blotches against a monotonous, dreary background. They were always singing. And they made time to dance. The music, always the music, turned their tales into real-life operettas, or even a musical, depending on the music scores playing out in their minds.

It probably was more like a Black Hawk operetta, with elements of a happy musical added, for not everything was doom and gloom, but it did harbor a sense of tragedy here and there. Jim Burden could have been the music conductor of the orchestra, the 'hired girls' the chorus, and Antonia the star of the performance, according to his memoir.

There was lots to share with the audience, such as the immigrant families finding themselves huddled into dug-outs and mud houses while the cruel winter winds were blowing viciously over the plains of Nebraska.

Melancholic larghettos could represent their longing for their homelands such as Bohemia (now the Czech Republic), Germany, Russia, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland. A selection of allegros could symbolize their hope and dreams for a new life in America, where opportunities were bountiful and greater marriage proposals awaited their beautiful daughters.

Instead, they were greeted by a language barrier in the first place, and a small town zeitgeist which danced ferocious rhythms on their naivety. Members of the ruling upper class seduced them into fast-moving loan-waltzes that could not be paid back in any which way whatsoever. A jubilant foxtrot of social class distinction lured their precious, healthy looking, physically strong daughters into maid services where they were exploited in unimaginable ways. The grand finale turns out to be a boisterous polka, confirming their low-class status as their dreams lay trampled and destroyed on the streets of Black Hawk. As the curtain draw close, some players lay spread out on the floor - suicide; others gave up and flee back to their countries.

In the aftermath though, there were highly successful survivors, living happily on their financially successful farms. Their hard work paid off, while the American families who looked down on them, were still poor and cottoned-up in their deluded sense of superiority and their respect for respectability.

Jim Burden was furious with 'these snobs'! Oh how he despised them for what they did to his friends! And what their actions did to his Antonia, the prettiest, the most hard-working and most beautiful soul of them farm girls ...

Antonia was bright as a new dollar, and her friends not very much behind. Life would change for all of them. Alaska's gold, San Francisco's decadence and New York's opulence were waiting and Jimmy had to tell their stories in his memoir, because everything evolved around Antonia. And he wanted to write her story down. He had to explain his role in the outcome of their lives.

How ironic it was that he once believed that his grandfather's farm on the vast prairies of Nebraska, was the actual end of the world.

Twenty years later Jim returned on the same railway track, following the same old road. It was now hardly visible. He reached the end of the world ... where it all began.

Two new roads intersected at the crossroads where old Mr. Shimerda lay buried at the far corner of his land. He lay beneath a sturdy, strong wooden cross, which were blessed by all travelers on their way to new destinations.

He metaphorically stood at the crossroads, finally realizing that everything made sense when and where it was expected the least. Antonia was there, with the fire in her eyes, alive and well. However, it is not what you think!

A magnificent read!
Profile Image for Nidhi Singh.
40 reviews164 followers
February 17, 2015
To speak her name was to call up pictures of peoples and places, to set a quiet drama going in one’s brain.

‘My Antonia’ is a story of home and homesickness. Of the memories of a lost home that persist in the mindscape as the warm gusts of wind and the singing of the larks. The home of that golden sunshine and yellow leaves, red shaggy grass and blue skies. The images which make me think of home as the quietest, friendliest corner of a crowded and uncaring street, of that kind touch in midst of the falling walls of life, of the bittersweet pain that persists in the heart as long as one lives. The place one always wants to go back to but holds over thinking how it must have changed and how we must have changed with the passing of the years. Or a look of longing evoked as the eyes meet the face of the beloved. Antonia, the beloved, who could never be yours, who you want to look at just for a moment longer, want to make her stay but have to let go. Because what she is, is everything that is earthy and beautiful, and essential and heart-felt, and primitive and pristine, and childhood and innocence, and life and love, and its harshness and tenderness, and its hard earned lessons. Everything that is lost and never recovered and never forgotten. And everything of what the home and the past is made of.

Between the earth and the sky I felt erased blotted out. I did not say my prayers that night: here, I felt, what would be would be.

This subsequent feeling of obliteration in the immensity of the prairies, the rustling of the red and gold autumn leaves in the high wind, the blazing force of winter wiping out the loveliness of summer, the stinging and delighting power of nature, the rejuvenation that comes with the changing seasons is a perfect ode to a transcendent vision and to everything that was put together by the pioneers for survival and persistence. It is something that is gripping as terror, which trembles the soul with its strangeness and yet makes the heart leap with ecstasy by permitting that space for humanity. There was nothing but land: not a country at all, but the material out of which countries are made. It is the unforgiving elemental force of nature that belittles the feeling of spatial and cultural estrangement however strong that might be. Because now, everything has to be built and rebuilt, and scrounged and hunted for. The past becomes a slate of memories of beautiful drawings. Something to be looked at with adoring, piercing nostalgia, but never to be turned back to.

Her warm, sweet face, her kind arms, and the true heart in her; she was, oh, she was still my Antonia!

Maybe it is true that Jim is too much of a romantic. He declares his inability to lose himself among impersonal things, with his memory always crowded with people and places of his own past, strengthened and simplified like the unchanging blue of a clear summer sky. And his story is formed by rivulets of episodes, storytelling, impressions that are mostly his own and those that are gathered. His narrative is flawed, imperfect, tinged with too much emotion, inhibited with inaction, with less beginnings and greater musings over closed chapters. He never gives away everything about himself. He gives away his dreams but also his felt inability to understand them. There is so much we don’t understand of ourselves and our lives and of those we love. Of our hurts, and bitterness and disappointments with them. It is one of the things that grant authenticity to our own experiences and feelings. There is something in it that gives the same strength and pulse to loving and remembering, like the force that beckons Blind d’ Arnault to the piano. The necessity of loving and remembering. Loving them for what they are, what they have meant to us, and what we have shared together; the un-sharable and the incommunicable.

Now I understood that the same road was to bring us together again. Whatever we had missed, we possessed together the precious, the incommunicable past.

Profile Image for Terence.
1,152 reviews386 followers
December 30, 2008
Perhaps an example of the danger of reading something before being intellectually or critically able to handle it. I wasn't "forced" to read this in high school but it was on a list of books an English teacher asked us to choose from and report on.

The experience was so awful that I've never cracked another Cather novel since.

Added 12/29/08: Apparently I was not the only young man "traumatized" by an early experience with Cather. In a completely serendipitous convergence I came across this paragraph in Michael Dirda's Classics for Pleasure in the Willa Cather essay:

Willa Cather hated to see her fiction anthologized or used as a school text. She feared that instead of discovering her stories and novels on their own, children would grow up with unpleasant memories of being forced to read her work. Unfortunately, this has happened. My Antonia is a staple of high-school English classes, but seldom a favorite with students, especially teenage boys. (p. 254)
Profile Image for Libros Prestados.
419 reviews769 followers
December 1, 2017
La puntuación alta se debe en parte a la nostalgia: este libro me recordaba a mi abuela. Describe la vida de mujeres que de niñas/adolescentes dejaron sus granjas para ir a trabajar como sirvientas y así ayudar a la economía familiar. Sí, puede que se trate de mujeres inmigrantes, y mi abuela no lo era, pero hay parte de la misma adversidad y los mismos prejuicios de las chicas de ciudad a su origen rural que mi abuela solía relatar.

Eso no quiere decir que las cinco estrellas se deban solo a mis sentimientos. Me ha parecido una gran novela, escrita magistralmente, con ese amor de Willa Cather por los paisajes de su infancia y perspicacia a la hora de detallar a ese grupo de mujeres, a ese grupo de personas de una comunidad, todos emigrantes de distinto origen, que se encontraron en América.

Sí, una vez más Willa Cather está hablando de inmigrantes europeos blancos. Hay una mención de pasada a un afroamericano, pero Cather lo que escribe es el "Mito Americano" blanco, el que olvida que esa tierra fue robada, el que ignora la labor y el sufrimiento de los esclavos africanos o los trabajadores asiáticos. Aún así, Willa Cather es lo suficientemente honesta para describir lo duro que era, y cómo ninguno de esos granjeros pudo sobrevivir sin recibir ayuda de otros. Las comunidades prosperaron, no las explotaciones agrarias en solitario. También describe la situación (dura e injusta) de la mujer, siendo el desarrollo del personaje de Lena Lindgard francamente interesante.

El libro es como una versión ampliada y menos melodramática de "Pioneros". Los personajes tienen más tiempo para desarrollarse, la historia tiene partes dramáticas, pero no sentí en ningún momento esa sensación de estar viendo un telefilme de sobremesa de fin de semana que sí tuve con "Pioneros" (a ver, Cather es una gran escritora y "Pioneros" no es un telefilme, pero ya me entendéis). Cather busca más la verosimilitud que el shock.

A la gente que le gustó "Pioneros" le debería gustar, y a los que tuvieron problemas con el final de ese libro también debería gustarles más "Mi Ántonia", porque tal vez tenga menos giros y saltos dramáticos, pero lo suple con unos personajes carismáticos a los que acabas conociendo y, en algunos casos (no todos), queriendo.
Profile Image for Trish.
255 reviews380 followers
July 14, 2022
If there were no girls like them in the world, there would be no poetry.

Frankly, I don't quite trust myself to put into words just how beautiful and hypnotizing Willa Cather's writing and story-telling ability is. This is one of those books you just have to read for yourself. The prose in this novel is outstanding and the characters and setting come to life as easily as breathing. Trust me, this is a hidden gem in a sea of classics.
Profile Image for Monica.
583 reviews611 followers
January 6, 2019
My Antonia was an unexpected, pleasant surprise.  This is another Read Harder task:  Read an assigned book you hated (or never finished).  I was assigned to read this during my junior year in college.  I never cracked the spine.  It was a religion in literature class.  Honestly, I was expecting My Antonia to be a proselytizing piece of work.  What I got after finally reading it some 30+ years later was not a discussion of religion (it's there but not nearly as much as anticipated), but a discussion of immigration, of Midwestern values, feminism, racism, meritocracy, privilege, wealth disparities, even a little implied homo eroticism.  In essence this was a surprisingly rich, deep, enjoyable and enlightening read.
I was getting bogged down in the beginning.  I was at approximately 20% and we were still having children's adventures.  Ugh! Shout out to my gr friend Zachary who encouraged me to press on.   My Antonia is a coming of age story about a young boy growing up principally in Nebraska among a cast of mostly immigrant characters.  Cather's portrayal of immigrants is interesting.  There is a bit of a metamorphosis in the attitude of Jim Burden as he grows up.  Cather shows that social evolution can be real!!

I see these classics as time capsules revealing mindsets, philosophies, conditions of the times, the environments, moods, temperament etc. Oftentimes I find the books revealing much more about the author than the fate of the characters on the journey. You pick up things in the turn of a phrase. The predicament of the characters and how they talk it out. Cather was an interesting woman. Like so many brilliant writers, she was both ahead of her time and a product of her time. But here's a moment of honesty; one hundred years later, Cather has done more to help me understand the Midwest mindset than the throngs of books written on the subject even within the last decade. By Midwest mindset, I mean primarily white, middle class people (primarily male) with "family" values, independent minded with one foot in the rural life and one in the urban attempting to bridge the gap without eroding their culture.
"'People who don't like this country ought to stay at home,' I said severely. 'We don't make them come here.'"
Through Jim "every man" Burden, Cather reveals the Midwest attitudes towards immigration/others. At first he has prejudged them unfavorably but more and more exposure to them allows him to understand, accept and even appreciate them and their differences. He also comes to understand the systemic privileges he has that Antonia does not. Privileged bestowed upon him as a white male and as an American born male.
"'Why aren't you always nice like this, Tony?' 'How nice?' 'Why, just like this; like yourself. Why do you all the time try to be like Ambrosch?' She put her arms under her head and lay back, looking up at the sky. 'If I live here, like you, that is different. Things will be easy for you. But they will be hard for us.'
Burden is ahead of his time in his evolution on the roles of women. He is at first disdainful of Antonia because she is too masculine,
"Nowadays Tony could talk of nothing but the prices of things, or how much she could lift and endure. She was too proud of her strength."
but evolves to even appreciate "hired girls" as having a purpose
"Physically they were almost a race apart, and out-of-door work had given them a vigour which, when they got over their first shyness on coming to town, developed into a positive carriage and freedom of movement, and made them conspicuous among Black Hawk women."
and thus being more interesting than those American girls who do nothing all day in relative comfort waiting for their future husbands.
"Some of the high-school girls were jolly and pretty, but they stayed indoors in winter because of the cold, and in summer because of the heat. When one danced with them, their bodies never moved inside their clothes; their muscles seemed to ask but one thing—not to be disturbed. I remember those girls merely as faces in the schoolroom, gay and rosy, or listless and dull, cut off below the shoulders"
In the end, Burden's view of Antonia is wistful. The brilliance in this book is that they met as children, Burden with the notion that they both had unlimited potential. While growing up together he sees, her options evaporating while his only multiply and he realizes it has everything to do with her ethnic background (and gender) and not much to do with the quality or values of the person.

Cather reveals her own thoughts as she has Antonia relish in her physical strength and abilities on the farm. She also reveals that other immigrant women were able to find success away from the farms and not at the whim and mercy of their husbands. Honestly I would go so far as to say this was an early feminist novel. Though Antonia follows what would be considered an expected/conformed life path, there are many other characters that fare much better on their own without relying on men. In fact men in this novel (other than the Burden family and a handful of other characters) are not to be trusted or relied upon. In contrast almost all of the female characters are smart, reliable and the rock of the families. Only Antonia's mother gets a bad edit.

But if Cather was Avant Garde about gender issues and sexuality, her racial bigotry though passive was also on display. I found this passage troubling to no end:
"As piano-playing, it was perhaps abominable, but as music it was something real, vitalized by a sense of rhythm that was stronger than his other physical senses—that not only filled his dark mind, but worried his body incessantly. To hear him, to watch him, was to see a Negro enjoying himself as only a Negro can"
Bear in mind that this man is doing nothing but playing a piano. What about him conjured up an image of a dark mind? There is so much casual racism in this sentence/book it drives me nuts. Here is another passage in which Cather is trying to describe a woman who is seen as cold and unapproachable in town
"She was tall, dark, severe, with something Indian-like in the rigid immobility of her face. Her manner was cold, and she talked little. Guests felt that they were receiving, not conferring, a favour"
Cather a product of her time?!? Perhaps. But in these times, no one gets a pass from me. This is racism and dismissing it with the notion of "that was the way they thought back then" is the kind of thing that gets passed along through generations and leads to ridiculous things like building a wall on one border, as seemingly reasonable. We need to see it for what it is. Acknowledge it. Don't dismiss it as "that was the era" because it still exists today and is every bit as blatant.

Off my soapbox. On the whole, this was an excellent book and it revealed so much about the times and the mindsets. This was a difficult review to write because there is so much to comment on. I've barely scratched the surface as it is. And BTW, I would not have gotten nearly as much from the novel if I had read it when it was assigned. At 20, I was very smart, but not very socially aware. I would not have liked the book. In my 50s, I see it as an eye opening, really interesting and full of knowledge and history. There is a plethora of ideas, and philosophies and attitudes to explore. This was a rich and rewarding novel in significantly more ways than I think even Cather imagined.  Well worth a read and study. Frankly, I'm very happy to have read it at this age.
In conclusion  My Antonia, @100 years old you don't look a day over 30.
4.5ish Stars
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