Monday, November 30, 2015

My Antonia

By Willa Cather
After his parents died, young Jim Burden was sent from his home in Virginia to live with his grandparents on their farm near Black Hawk, Nebraska. Traveling on the same train to that same area was Antonia, a young teen girl, and her family. From Bohemia, none of them spoke much English and were looking to start a new life in America.
Antonia and her family were neighbors to Jim's grandparents and over the years, Jim and Antonia became good friends, even though she was a few years older than he was. They explored the countryside together and Jim helped her improve her English.
Back in Europe, Antonia's father had been a professional musician but, in the wilds of Nebraska, he languished. After only a few months in America, he became so depressed that he killed himself. After that, Antonia had to assume part of the burden of caring for the farm, along with her older brother and her mother. There was less time for Jim and their friendship.
Jim and his grandparents eventually moved from the farm and into the small town of Black Hawk. Jim had decided he wanted to go to college and devoted a lot of his time to his studies. That is until Antonia moved into town.
She got a job with the next-door neighbors as a housekeeper. Her salary was sent home to the farm. A lot of other country girls were coming to town to work too, also to send money back home to the farm. These girls liked to socialize together and Jim became part of their group. They had a lot of fun together and created a bit of scandal because of it.
Time passes and Jim heads off to Lincoln to attended university. He is there for a few years and goes back East to attend Harvard and becomes a lawyer. The girls he used to socialize with all go on to have good lives, better than the townsfolk predicted for them. Even the ones who were most disapproved of. Except for Antonia. Jim learns that she was deceived and conceived a child out of wedlock and is back on the family farm, working the fields like she did as a teenager.
Jim always means to catch up with her but the years speed by and he never gets back until decades later. He is pleased to find out that life hasn't been as bad for Antonia as he feared. She married and had a heap of children and has a kind and understanding husband and their farm and family are all doing well.
Jim always carried a torch for her, but to Antonia, he was always just a boy. He probably would have married her if she had given him a little encouragement. But the one time he made his move, she made it clear that he was like a brother to her and not a suitor.

This was an okay read. Jim was certainly more taken with Antonia than I was. I think I enjoyed reading about life in those times more than I did about Antonia. I guess I never understood what his fascination with her was beyond her basic good looks. She was attractive, and healthy, and a hard worker. But so were a lot of other girls in the area. I guess what made her special to him was that she was his first, if unrequited, love. Beyond that, she really didn't seem that special to me. Towards the end of the book, I was getting very bored with the story and just want it to be over.

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