My Ántonia

I just finished Willa Cather‘s My Ántonia (accent on the first syllable please) and am basking in that satisfied feeling that a masterful story, well told offers. H.L. Mencken once wrote, “No romantic novel ever written in America, by man or woman, is one half so beautiful as My Ántonia.” Yep, I have to agree.

Cather excels with her descriptions and plotting. The characters are well drawn and true to life. While I read, I felt I was getting the “straight dope” on prairie life, on how immigrants really thought and fared. I felt I gained a deeper understanding of the period than any history book I’ve read so far can provide.

Jim Burden is the narrator, who leads readers through the stories of the people, townsfolk and country farmers, in Nebraska in the late 19th and early 20th century. These are all people a modern suburbanite like me finds easy to overlook. But through Jim’s eyes, I see their depth and complexities. Throughout the story, I was surprised by events and glad that Cather never stooped to make her characters amble down a well worn path.

This novel would be an excellent choice as a companion to a history unit on the pioneers.