The Idiot Learns to Read #11: My Antonia

When the sun was dropping low, Antonia came up the big south draw with her team. How much older she had grown in eight months! She had come to us a child, and now she was a tall, strong young girl, although her fifteenth birthday had just slipped by. I ran out and met her as she brought her horses up to the windmill to water them. She wore the boots her father had so thoughtfully taken off before he shot himself, and his old fur cap. Her outgrown cotton dress switched about her calves, over the boot-tops. She kept her sleeves rolled up all day, and her arms and throat were burned as brown as a sailor’s. Her neck came up strongly out of her shoulders, like the bole of a tree out of the turf. One sees that draught-horse neck among the peasant women in all old countries.

I didn’t think I would like this book.  I’m not really much into westerns and prairie stories.  Who wants to read about a country boy growing up on a farm and then in some small pokey little town in the midwest?

It turned out to be riveting and I flew through the pages quickly because suddenly I had a vested interest in this boy’s life.  Despite the title My Antonia is really about a young boy who moves to Nebraska from Virginia after his parents die.  He goes to live with his grandparents on their farm, just around the way from some Bohemian people, the Shimerdas.  They have a daughter, Antonia.  From the day he first meets her, Jim has a certain love affair with this girl who is a few years older than him.  He is 10 years old when they first meet.

They spend their growing up years playing together out on the prairie.  It was all very sweet and innocent, but he can’t help the way he feels about her.  She treats him like a child, but they have an intense friendship.  Later, Jim’s grandparents decide they are too old to maintain a farm and they move into town.  Jim doesn’t get to see Antonia much anymore until she too later moves to town to get a job.

This book highlights what happens when there are missed opportunities and unspoken desires.  By the time Antonia comes to town, she is grown and Jim is still in high school.  Of course, he’s too young to really profess his love for her.  He hates how she goes running around with boys her own age, but there’s nothing really he can do about it.  By the time Jim comes of age, he goes off to college and leaves Antonia behind.

While away at school he meets up with another girl he grew up with, Lena Lindgard and for a little while I thought it was her that he would marry, but I soon realised that she was just a chapter in his life.  The two even spent a bit of time talking about Antonia.  Eventually Jim leaves even Lena to go east to attend law school.

Many years later, Jim returns to his small hometown to find that Antonia has married and now has 10 children.  He wasn’t bitter or disappointed.  It’s just that their lives took them in two different directions.  It was never meant to be, maybe.  Perhaps it was the difference in their ages, the difference in their upbringing.  It could have been anything.  Whatever it was, they never get together.

I really enjoyed this book.  The language was easy without being dumbed-down.  I felt each and every character as if I knew these people.  Jim had a way of really putting his thoughts forward.  I give Willa Cather an A+

Next up is Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment.  This is sure to be a heavy read.  I don’t know how I feel about this.  I’ll let you know.

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