32. My Antonia, Willa Cather (1918)

A few years ago I was on holiday in New England, browsing second-hand bookshops and asking my friend and host for examples of classic American literature. My Antonia was mentioned – a book that’s taught in schools in the US, but is hardly known at all in the UK. I duly bought it and read it and was blown away. The heart of My Antonia is the enduring love of Jim Burden for the spirited young Antonia Shimerda, set against the backdrop of Cather’s beloved turn-of-the-century Nebraska. Not much happens, and it’s hard to pin down the appeal of the book, but everyone else I’ve recommended it to has loved it as much as I do. Cather’s ability to relate story and emotion to the physical world, particularly the Nebraska landscape, is unmatched, and she conveys the power of love and loss without ever resorting to cliche or blustering. I nearly went for Death Comes for the Archbishop, which is just as good, but this one hit me harder.

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2 Comments

Filed under My top 100 novels

2 responses to “32. My Antonia, Willa Cather (1918)

  1. Todd Sumner

    Every time I haul water from the river to give to our apple trees I think of that scene…
    Fun to remember that conversation…

  2. I just finished Death Comes for the Archbishop last month and will have to give this one a try. It’s literary but literature meant to be read. Sometimes literature can feel like a boys club pissing contest, with more emphasis on style than story. Cather is the antidote to this, packing more punch into fewer words and in a charming tale.

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