My Ántonia by Willa Cather

530791Fiction — print. Book-of-the-Month Club, 1995. 419 pgs. Library copy.

I’ve wanted to read Cather’s classic novel for quite some time, but was scared off when a friend said it was the most boring book they had ever read. Okay then. Moving on. And then Rebecca of Rebecca Reads posted a favorable review of the novel that really piqued my interest; I just had to read the book that has been on my list forever.

Told from the point of view of Jim Burden, the novel traces Jim’s interactions with Ántonia Shimerda, an emigrant from Bohemia, as they both grow-up in pioneer-era Nebraska. Jim moved to Nebraska from Virgina at the age of ten following the death of his parents and quickly becomes friends with the Shimerda children, who have moved in next door to his grandparents. The death of Ántonia’s father in January drives a wedge into their friendship, which is seemingly unrepairable, and, as the two grow older, they find their friendship falling to the wayside completely because Ántonia is a working girl and Jim is heading off to college. Jim still thinks of her, though, and muses over the impact she has had on his life as the novel comes to a close.

My Ántonia is divided into five books with each book covering an important chunk of time in Jim’s life — meeting Ántonia, relocation from the farm to town, time in college. The plot meanders along, which reflects the simplicity of Jim’s thoughts, and Cather’s writing style smoothly unfolds the story, which is supposedly based on her own life. The dialog is wonderful; everyone speaks in a distinct voice.

And I enjoyed the evolution of Ántonia herself  as she goes from new immigrant to student and back to Czech farm wife, but I really struggled to enjoy the fourth book in the novel. Some much of it referred to Ántonia in the third person (ex: Grandma said Ántonia did such and such) and I really missed the interactions between Ántonia and Jim and Jim’s subsequent thoughts.

This section is the reason why I think so many people find My Ántonia to be boring because I found this section to be boring. I found it interesting to “watch” the evolution of all the characters as they grow and change, but there where a few moments when I was wondering when it was going to end.

Others’ Thoughts:


  1. I would like to read some Cather at some point… maybe this year? Not sure if this is where I’ll start, but I’m glad you found it to mostly be a rewarding reading experience!


  2. Jude

    Your interest was piqued, not peaked. Just saying. I’ve only read Death Comes for the Archbishop by Cather. It’s slow as well, since we start when he’s young and it takes him years to die, but still worth reading. You have now piqued my interest in My Antonia.


  3. I’ve only read O Pioneers and it’s been ages so I can’t remember anything about it really. I do know it was a book group read and a lot of people found it slow too. Hmm, I would definitely like to read another of her books though. I think I’ll have to keep this one on my radar.


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