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Review: "O Pioneers!" by Willa Cather

O Pioneers! may be downloaded for free from our ebook catalog.

O Pioneers! starts with the death of John Bergson, a Swedish immigrant with a keen foresight to the eventual worth of his land in rural Nebraska. The rest of the novel follows the lives of his children, particularly Alexandra Bergson who inherits her father's business sense and foresight. John Bergson's spirit remains present throughout the story, observing from his portrait on the wall the changes that follow the land and his children. It seems to be through his eyes--not through a religious or other moral compass--that Cather presents her story.

I would call O Pioneers! the perfect novel had I not read that her following novels are even better. It is short, but engrossing, and meticulously crafted. Her characterization is reminiscent of George Eliot: there are no good or evil characters. All characters have both good and evil in them, and through their actions good or evil befalls them. It is refreshing to read a story in which the author is not heavy-handed in her judgments or moral ideals. Apparently Cather was criticized during her time for simply describing poor people rather than politicizing their cause. But by staying true to her story, she presents a timeless narrative more moving that any political tirade could be.

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