28 March 2008

My Antonia - Willa Cather

Cather is quickly becoming one of my favourite authors. After reading O Pioneers! last year, I was anxious to read another of her novels. My Antonia, although not her most acclaimed work, certainly did not disappoint. Simple put, the prose is stunning. Cather is brilliant at constructing a house of thoughts out of little more than the lumbering cadence of a sentence.

“My Antonia” deals with many of the same themes as Cather’s other works – the immigration experience in early 20th Century America, particularly the experience of Scandinavians in the rural Midwest; our relationship to both the past, and how it’s values and relationships have affected our current lives; and our relationship with the land that surrounds us, feeds us and provides for the background of our most important times in life.

For those John Grisham readers or Stephen King fans, this book is most likely not for your. The story line is more syrupy that you are used to with your crunchy peanut butter plot twists. Essentially, it is the story of Antonia Shimerda, as told through the recollections of the plot’s protagonist, Jim Burden. After the death of his parents at the age of ten, Jim moves to a small rural town in Nebraska – Black Hawk - to live with his grandparents, where he befriends Antonia, a Bohemian girl living on the adjacent farm. The storyline follows the landscape of Jim’s life through his early adventures with Antonia, through to his college days in Lincoln and Boston, and eventually his return to Black Hawk. Along the way, Jim realizes that the thread of one’s life, although it may become frayed at times, was once finite and whole.

There were no clouds, the sun was going down in a limpid, gold-washed sky. Just as the lower edge of the red disc rested on the high fields against the horizon, a great black figure suddenly appeared on the face of the sun. We sprang to our feet, straining our eyes toward it. In a moment we realized what it was. On some upland farm, a plough had been left standing in the field. The sun was sinking just behind it. Magnified across the distance by the horizontal light, it stood out against the sun, was exactly contained within the circle of the disk; the handles, the tongue, the share—black against the molten red. There it was, heroic in size, a picture writing on the sun.