Jason Koivu's Reviews > My Ántonia

My Ántonia by Willa Cather
Rate this book
Clear rating

by
1742824
's review

it was amazing
bookshelves: fiction

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.

description
description

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.
82 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read My Ántonia.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

August 27, 2011 – Shelved
November 6, 2014 – Started Reading
November 9, 2014 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-21 of 21 (21 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Kalliope (new)

Kalliope Yes, I will come to this late too. Hope to remedy this (soon). Loved the review.


message 2: by Arah-Lynda (new) - added it

Arah-Lynda I too am late. Gorgeous review!


Samadrita Brilliant and heart-felt review, Jason.


message 4: by Garima (new)

Garima Lovely review, yes.


message 5: by Agnieszka (new) - added it

Agnieszka Indeed , beautiful review !


message 6: by Suzy (last edited Nov 10, 2014 07:43AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Suzy Whether late or early, I'm always glad to see someone has read and loved this book as I did. Your review is insightful - thanks for including your family's immigration history and the photos. I agree with your next to last paragraph which is why I love all of Cather's books.


Jason Koivu Thank you all, sincerely, for your kind words!

As for reading this "late", in retrospect, I'm actually glad I waited. I'm definitely glad this wasn't forced upon me in school. Since that time I've developed patience and a compassion for the human condition that marries well to just such a book.


Terence Jason wrote: "I'm definitely glad this wasn't forced upon me in school. Since that time I've..."

Alas, I was forced to read it in school, and it left a bad enough taste in my mouth to rate one star. But I thoroughly enjoyed Death Comes for the Archbishop and I definitely need to reread this at some point.


Jason Koivu Terence wrote: "Jason wrote: "I'm definitely glad this wasn't forced upon me in school. Since that time I've..."

Alas, I was forced to read it in school, and it left a bad enough taste in my mouth to rate one sta..."


I could see being bored out of my gourd reading this as a kid. I'm not saying this is you, Terence, but as you're no doubt aware, many kids don't have a respect for life and death and the struggle that comes between. Also, they often prefer a linear story with a cut-and-dried objective. Meandering life portraits are lost upon youth, who don't understand that not everything comes to you in black and white, good vs evil. Once adulthood is entered, you start to see the gray areas of life and have an appreciation for those struggling with indecision and double-edged swords. Then again, some people just flat out hate history and "old shit about dead people," which sounds like something a 15 year old me might've said. Sorry if this sounded preachy. It wasn't intended to be.


Terence Jason wrote: "Terence wrote: "Jason wrote: "I'm definitely glad this wasn't forced upon me in school. Since that time I've..."

Alas, I was forced to read it in school, and it left a bad enough taste in my mouth..."


Oh, no, I agree. I was too young and did't have the family background to relate directly to the story to appreciate it.

Which is why I need to put it on my bucket list :-)

I may not have the 5-star reaction to it you did but I know I'd get more out of it than did my callow, juvenile self.


message 11: by [deleted user] (new)

It's the struggle that counts. Yes. I look for fiction that gives me courage to continue that struggle. This was such a book for me, Jason.


message 12: by Dolors (last edited Nov 11, 2014 12:40AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dolors "Fiction this may be, but the story is a real one."
You said it Jason. I recently read Cather and I know Ántonia and those singing prairies will always stay with me. Steinbeck has also become a favorite of mine and I hope to read more by both authors sooner rather than later. Also loved the personal touch of your review, really lovely.


Jason Koivu Dolors wrote: ""Fiction this may be, but the story is a real one."
You said it Jason. I recently read Cather and I know Ántonia and those singing prairies will always stay with me. Steinbeck has also become a fav..."


Thanks, D!


Sketchbook Fine review of an American classic.


Jason Koivu Sketchbook wrote: "Fine review of an American classic."

Thank you!


Phyllis I totally agree with you. My Czech ancestors came to this country and lived in Chicago and then South Dakota around the same time. The stories my Grandmother told about life there came back to me when I read this book. Interestingly, the rest of my book club wasn't too thrilled with it, perhaps missing the beautiful characterization.


Jason Koivu Phyllis wrote: "I totally agree with you. My Czech ancestors came to this country and lived in Chicago and then South Dakota around the same time. The stories my Grandmother told about life there came back to me w..."

Oh man, Chicago was not the place to be for immigrants back around this time. Glad to hear your family got out, Phyllis!


message 18: by James (new)

James Thane Hey man, better late than never! As much as you liked this you might look at Giants in the Earth: A Saga of the Prairie if you haven't already read it. It's definitely a classic along the same lines.


Jason Koivu James wrote: "Hey man, better late than never! As much as you liked this you might look at Giants in the Earth: A Saga of the Prairie if you haven't already read it. It's definitely a classic along ..."

Wow, that sounds like something I'd love. Thanks, James!


Nancy Thanks Jason for the fantastic review of this unforgettable classic. I, at sixty years old, have definitely come late to the party, too. Like many other commenters, I am very glad for that as I would not have enjoyed this book so much if I had read it when I was young..or been forced to read it in my school years.


Jason Koivu Nancy wrote: "Thanks Jason for the fantastic review of this unforgettable classic. I, at sixty years old, have definitely come late to the party, too. Like many other commenters, I am very glad for that as I wou..."

Yeah, I just don't think it's for the kids. Or at least it would take a young person of quite unusual tastes to enjoy it.


back to top