Saturday, May 22, 2021

My Ántonia by Willa Cather

This third book of the Prairie Trilogy of Willa Cather is set around the turn of the century (19th to 20th). Narrated by the adult Jimmy Burden, it tells his memories and feelings about the pioneers life in Black Hawk, Virginia.

Jim arrived in Black Hawk as a ten year old orphan who would stay with his grandparents. He got acquainted with their new neighbor: the Shimerda family, immigrants from Bohemia, who were poor and unskilled in farming, but believed that their lives would get better in America. Little Jim soon befriended Ántonia Shimerda, the older daughter, who was a few years older than him. It's so pleasant to follow their adventures - Jim killed a huge rattlesnake! And through their innocent eyes, we see the real lives of these pioneers, as if we  live and struggle with them, feel the loneliness of immigrants who were uprooted from their friends, family, and everything dear to them in their old country, and must build a new life in a new and strange place. I was so sad for the death of Mr. Shimerda. I could imagine his blissful moment when celebrating Christmas with the Burdens, and how it must hit him so hard when realizing his own sad predicament. The contrast could have made anyone wants to die of broken heart. I felt your pain, Mr. Shimerda!

After Mr. Shimerda's death, Ántonia worked hard in the field, doing man's works to help her brother Ambrosch. Meanwhile, Jim's grandparents moved to the town. He went to school, and continued on to the state university in Lincoln. Mrs. Burden, who took pity to Ántonia, got her a job as housekeeper to the Burdens' new neighbor: the Harlings. She had a good time and good wages there, even learned much about fine housekeeping.

Fast forward to twenty years later, when Jim has become a lawyer after studying at Harvard. During those years, Jim hasn't visited Ántonia, who had returned to hard life in the field, dumped by a young man whom she loved, and then marry a Bohemian called Cuzak. Jim finally went to Black Hawk and visited the Cuzaks. Ántonia has become a stout woman, after the hard life and having ten children, but Jim was amazed to see the vigor of life is still in her. She had become for him, the true spirit and soul of the prairie. She, who loved and was proud of their land, and was happy with her life as a farmer's wife, with all the hard working.

My Ántonia is like a plate of nice comfort food. It's delicious, not too rich, but also not too light, where every ingredient compliments each other, creating a perfect combination. The blissful moment is when you're savouring it in your mouth; you don't want it to end, enjoying every chew. A moment before you're about to swallow it, you realize how amazing the taste is. Then after swallowing, you let out a satisfactory sigh. That's My Ántonia for me. It might not be a masterpiece, but it's so satisfying. And I know I'd want to reread it (often) in the future.

I realized that there are more in My Ántonia than a "delicious" story. The discrimination and prejudices against Bohemians or foreign people, for example. But for now, I would just enjoy the novel as it is; I might read more critically in the next reread.

Rating: 4,5 / 5

4 comments:

  1. This book is one of my favourites too! Great review, Fanda!

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    1. Thanks, Cleo. It's hard to not love it, right? :)

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  2. Like you I savoured the deliciousness of this story, knowing that it would be one I would want to reread more deeply later. I'm still waiting for later, of course! And still hoping to read the other two books too!! But until I retire, or drop back a day or two with work, then some things will just have to wait :-)

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    1. Exactly my feeling right now, Brona! Wait till I'm retired, and I will reread every great book I've said I'd reread one day. :P

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