HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: O Pioneers!
Author: Willa Cather
Cover Illustrator: Sally Mara Sturman
Publisher: Dover Publications, republished 1993
Language level: 3
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 16 and up
Rating: *** 3 stars
(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Cather, Willa. O Pioneers! (originally published in 1913; republished in 1992 by Vintage Books, a division of Random House Inc., New York City, NY). It is about 1883. Fourteen year old Alexandra Bergson lives on a 640 acre farm overlooking Norway Creek near the little town of Hanover on the windy Nebraska prairie with her Swedish immigrant parents, Mr. and Mrs. John Bergson, older brothers Oscar, nineteen, and Lou, seventeen, and five year old younger brother Emil. Even though he has sons, John Bergson leaves the care of the farm to Alexandra when he dies. She is in love with fifteen year old Carl Linstrum, the son of the neighbor family, but the Linstrums move away. Over the next sixteen years, the farm prospers. Oscar and Lou marry and obtain their own farms. Emil goes off to college and then takes a long trip to Mexico when he graduates. Alexandra becomes lonely.
Meanwhile, a childhood playmate of Emil’s, Marie Tovesky, marries Frank Shabata, and they move into the old Linstrum farm. However, it is an unhappy marriage, and Marie seeks comfort from Alexandra. After Emil returns from Mexico, he and Marie renew their old friendship. Emil decides to go to law school in Michigan to avoid temptation and stops by the night of his departure to say goodbye to Marie. Coming home drunk that night, Frank sees the two lying together out in the orchard, gets his shotgun, and kills them both. He is sentenced to prison, but Alexandra works to get him pardoned. How does Alexandra react to the death of her brother? What can Oscar and Lou do about the situation? And will Alexandra ever see Carl Linstrum again? Several years ago, we watched a Hallmark Hall of Fame television movie which was based on this novel, originally aired in 1992 on CBS, and starred Jessica Lange.
The book contains a little cursing (the “d” and “h” words) and profanity (“my God” used as an interjection), but not very much. There are a few references to drinking alcoholic beverages and smoking tobacco. And one minor character has thoughts of suicide. Author Willa Cather (1873–1947) grew up on the Nebraska prairie. My biggest problem is that the story had trouble keeping my attention. One reason may be that I already knew what was going to happen from having watched the movie. Another may be that there is a large amount of description. Now, I don’t necessarily mind descriptive writing, but Cather seems to overdo it. However, she provides a keen insight into the experiences of Swedish, French, and Bohemian immigrants in the United States. Also, the notion of forgiveness is strongly emphasized at the end. O Pioneers! is the first novel of her Great Plains trilogy, followed by The Song of the Lark (1915) and My Ántonia (1918).