‘My Ántonia’~ Book Review

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“The red of the grass made all the great prairie the colour of wine stains, or of certain seaweeds when they are first washed up. And there was so much motion in it; the whole country seemed, somehow, to be running.”

It recalls memories of the adventures of “Tom Sawyer”, Scarlet’s love of the land in “Gone with the Wind”, romantic tendencies towards philosophy in “The Great Gatsby” and a voice quite its own. For one, I really enjoyed the descriptions of nature, the vivid colours etched into your imagination of some place new, not yet experienced. A pocket into a time past.

On the edge of the prairie, where the sun had gone down, the sky was turquoise blue, like a lake, with gold light throbbing in it….the evening star hung like a lamp suspended by silver chains — like the lamp engraved up the title-page of old Latin texts, which is always appearing in new heavens and waking new desires in men.

There’s something about reading that makes creativity flow again, and I could well carry the images of the prairies with me as I went about my day. The plot mainly focuses on Ántonia, (My Ántonia) a Bohemian girl travelling to Nebraska with her family to escape poverty and build up the land from scratch- and the memories it affords to Jim Burden, orphaned at the age of 10. Though time passes and their lives are apart, he begins to write a journal of his childhood.

Time changes us all. We adapt and view things in different ways, ways which can give us some form of calm acceptance as we grow older. It’s true that one of the main aspects you miss about a place is it’s scenery and environment. Its overflowing nature, peace and greenery, solitude. The idea of leaving our modern lives behind, escape and live in a log cabin somewhere in the wilderness seems attractive and romantic. But the reality of the hardships Ántonia and her family have to face, immigrants from her native land- their struggle for survival is real.

“The older girls, who helped to break up the wild sod, learned so much from life, from poverty, from their mothers and grandmothers; they had all, like Antonia, been early awakened and made observant by coming at a tender age from an old country to a new.”

With any piece of writing, character development is by far one of the hardest – through speech or physical descriptions that need maintenance not just in introduction. Yet Willa Cather’s transition of Ántonia from child to adult captures her resilience, good nature, pure love for others and open, childlike wonder that sustains her as the yolk that brings all avenues of the story together.

Jim Burden’s devotion to Ántonia is remarkable in a way that transcends words. She represents to him his childhood days, his home, all the people that touched his life before he went away, memories that he has always cherished and carried with him. Their lives may have taken separate turns, but their collective memory is one that will always remain.  “…my mind plunged away from me, and I suddenly found myself thinking of the places and people of my own infinitesimal past.”

I will leave you with an extract – my particular favourite:

Of course it means you’re going away from us for good”, she said with a sigh. “But that doesn’t mean I’ll lose you. Look at my papa here; he’s been dead all these years, and yet he is more real to me than almost anybody else… The older I grow,  the better I know and understand him…”

About us was growing darker and darker, and I had to look hard at her face, which I meant always to carry with me ; the closest, realest face, under all the shadow  of women’s faces, at the very bottom of my memory. “I’ll come back,” I said earnestly, through the soft, intrusive darkness.

“Perhaps you will-” I felt rather than saw her smile. “But even if you don’t, you’re here, like my father. So I won’t be lonesome.”

As I went back along over that familiar road, I could almost believe that a boy and girl ran along beside me, as our shadows used to do, laughing and whispering to each other in the grass. 

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