So: Willa Cather is a new favorite author. I’ve spent this summer devouring four of her most well-known books, and I have enjoyed them all so deeply. This one is great, because it encapsulates the nature of growing up, moving on, and coming back as adults to soak in the memories and re-ignite the past.
Jim Burden is an orphan who moves to his grandparents’ farm in Nebraska. Here, he meets the intriguing Bohemian girl Antonia Shimerda and strikes up a lifelong friendship. The novel chronicles the highs and lows of eking out a living on the Great Plains, the problems of being an immigrant in a land that does not provide the affluence and luxury it promised you, and the changing nature of friendship and love over the course of a lifetime.
My Antonia is a valentine of sorts to old friends. The relationship between Jim and Antonia–really, Jim and his hometown, too–takes its turns for better and worse, especially when Jim starts to consider a future outside of his grandparents’ house. Yet some bonds cannot be ravaged by time, as Cather demonstrates in this lovely and moving novel.
What I liked about My Antonia was its focus on relationships. Cather has been called a “regional” author, but this novel blends the Nebraska setting with more universal themes of friendship, loss, and longing. Antonia is a compelling and rich character, and though not all her decisions are smartly made, you feel empathetic towards her. The Song of the Lark is still my favorite, but this is still great.