Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Book #5 - My Antonia (Willa Cather)

Man, my reading's been just moving right along lately, fueled by whiskey, enthusiasm, and some great writing.  I'm already half way through "My Antonia".  Alright, admittedly it's not so long a book, and I had an extra day off this week which allowed me some extra reading time, but still...  The book is narrated by a boy, Jim Burden, whose parents die when he is ten years old, and he is forced to move from his home in Virginia to a farm in Nebraska where his grandparents live.  At about the same time that he moves there, a Bohemian family (meaning an immigrant family from Bohemia, not the Kerouac clan) moves to the neighboring farm, and he befriends their oldest daughter Antonia.

I love Cather's description of the Nebraska pioneer life.  Well, alright, this story takes place maybe a generation after the true pioneers, but it's still early country life.  In fact, the setting, rural USA in the very early 1900s, is the same as in Main Street, but maybe 20 or 30 years earlier.  But Cather's view of rural and small town life is much more sympathetic and nostalgic than Sinclair Lewis's.  Cather lived in Nebraska as a child, and it's clear she relished the country.

Actually, there have been a couple of times where I've driven through western Nebraska on Interstate 80, and decided to get off the main road and go driving through the countryside on two lane roads.  And I have to say, I LOVE western Nebraska.  It's sand hill country, which means the terrain is basically large sand dunes covered by prairie grasses.  Lots of big cattle ranches among the ever-rolling hills, and scarcely any trees around.  It's really quite beautiful, and rather remote, and I imagine that 100 years ago it must have been quite remote, and I can see where Cather would have found it evocative.  Seriously, if you ever get to western Nebraska, get onto some backroads and have a look around.  I consider it one of America's hidden scenic delights.  I mean, Nebraska...who knew?

Anyway, I'm not sure where the novel is going to go at this point, but I'm enjoying it a lot, and I like the characters.  And I have to say, there's one episode that happens maybe 70 pages in that is just haunting.  A Russian neighbor explains why he had to leave Russia and come to the US, and it involves a sleigh ride home from a wedding with a newlywed couple that ends in tragedy.  Hungry wolves are also involved.  It was an example of some really great writing, and I couldn't get it out of my head for awhile.


Kristin said...

I read that book two years ago, and I am still haunted by the sleigh ride!

Robby Virus said...

Oh, man, me too! I think the sleigh ride was one of the most haunting passages I've read in years! Every time I read or hear something about wolves it reminds me of this part of the book.