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"My Ántonia" by Willa Cather

My Antonia may be downloaded for free from our ebook catalog.

My AntoniaFirst published 1918, My Antonia is Cather's fourth novel and is considered her finest work. The narrator is Jim Burden who recounts his life and memories surrounding Antonia, a childhood friend. The novel is divided into five parts, some of which incorporate short stories Cather had written about her own life growing up in Nebraska.

My Antonia is a story of many people over a long period of time. Many come and go, some stay throughout the narrative, many softly pass into the background and are not spoken of again. While not the tightly structured narrative that was O Pioneers!, My Antonia is a quiet story that finds its power through simplicity. It is real--real characters, real problems, real feelings. Cather even begins with mock realism: an unknown narrator meets Jim Burden and receives his manuscript of memoirs about growing up with Antonia. Who is this first narrator? Is it Willa Cather? Did she really meet Jim Burden, and is this really his story?

Perhaps what sets My Antonia apart is this very memoir quality. The story is told in retrospect through romanticized and detailed memories. It's obvious that Cather drew from her own experiences. Like Jim Burden, she moved from Virginia to the stark plains of Nebraska as a child. She grew up with immigrants and hardworking farmers. And like Jim she moved away, but always kept her striking memories of the prairie and the people and the time.

My Antonia deserves it's place among the great works of literature. That acerbic critic of American culture, H. L. Menken, even found some glowing words to write about the novel: "No romantic novel ever written in America, by man or woman, is one half so beautiful as My Antonia."


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