One evening, I was channel surfing and ran across a fascinating documentary about Willa Cather. For reasons completely unknown, this prompted me to take a chance on an American classic I had never read, My Antonia, and I was blown away. This fictional memoir has successful railway attorney Jim Burden looking back through much older eyes at his experiences growing up in pioneer Nebraska. At 10, Jim’s parents die and he is sent from Virginia to live with his elderly grandparents in Nebraska. Jim’s memories center around a somewhat older girl he befriended, Antonia. It is almost impossible to summarize this book. It’s part pioneer narrative, part coming of age story, part immigrant narrative and part first love story — and those are just the main parts. There are wonderful short character vignettes and amazingly lyrical descriptions of the prairie.
The thing that really caught me up in this book is the way that Jim’s adult voice is always present. This is a story about looking back and realizing that, for all the faults that might have existed, childhood can and should be a magical time. It’s a shame that schools inflict this remarkable book on children. They won’t have any of the life experience necessary to see what’s really going on in this story. Even those who hated this in grade school should give this American classic a chance as an adult. Read it slowly and savor the vivid pictures Cather paints of the great American prairie.
Review by staff member David D.