My Ántonia


Book: My Ántonia

Author: Willa Cather 

Cover Illustrator: Larry Knox

Publisher: Dover Publications, republished 1994

ISBN-13: 978-0486282404

ISBN-10: 0486282404

Related website(s): (publisher)

Language level: 2

(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: Older teens and adults

Rating: **** 4 stars

(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)

Category: Classic literature

Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker

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     Cather, Willa.  My Ántonia (Published in 1918 by Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, MA; republished in 2006 by Prestwick House Literary Touchstone Classics, P. O. Box 658, Clayton, DE  19938). James Quayle “Jim” Burden, the narrator and protagonist of the novel, is an orphaned boy from Virginia who grows up on his pioneer grandparents’ farm in Black Hawk, Nebraska, from age 10 and later becomes a successful lawyer in New York City.  Ántonia “Tony” Shimerda, a bold and free-hearted young girl, is the elder daughter in a family of Bohemian immigrants which arrives on the Nebraska frontier towards the end of the 19th century. Jim is the neighbor who will befriend Ántonia, teach her English, and follow the remarkable story of her life.  When Jim goes away to college in the East, what happens to Ántonia?  Does Jim have any opportunity to make it back to Black Hawk?  Will Ántonia ever get to see him again?

     My Ántonia, published in 1918 by American writer Willa Cather, evokes the Nebraska prairie life of Cather’s childhood, and commemorates the spirit and courage of immigrant pioneers in America. This book is considered Cather’s first masterpiece.  One of Cather’s earliest novels, it is considered one of her best works and is the final book of her “prairie trilogy” of novels, preceded by O Pioneers! and The Song of the Lark.  Cather was praised for bringing the American prairie to life and making it personally interesting. The novel is divided into sections called Books: I The Shimerdas, II The Hired Girls, III Lena Lingard, IV The Pioneer Woman’s Story, V Cuzak’s Boys. My Ántonia remains in print in a number of editions ranging from free Internet editions to inexpensive, mass-market paperbacks to expensive “scholarly editions.”

      My Antonia begins with a brief introduction in which Jim is on a train journey, speaking with an unnamed woman, supposed to be Cather herself, who also knew Ántonia and suggests that Jim write about her.  I enjoyed the book, moreso than I did O Pioneers!, though some parts are not for young children.  The “d” word is used occasionally, and there are references to drinking beer and smoking.  A suicide occurs as the pressures of the new life are too much for Mr. Shimerda, and he kills himself before the winter is finished.  Also, Antonia has a baby out of wedlock as her life takes a hard turn when the man she loves proposes marriage, but deceives her and leaves her with child.  Otherwise, it is an interesting story.

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