Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Drop Caps Challenge: My Antonia by Willa Cather

I'm still a bit behind on this - My Antonia was so short I should have caught right up, but I'm now slowly but surely making my way through Great Expectations.  I'll have that post up in June for sure, but it looks like the next two are also chunkers, so it may be slow going.
C is for Cather. My √Āntonia is considered one of the most significant American novels of the twentieth century. Set during the great migration west to settle the plains of the North American continent, the narrative follows Antonia Shimerda, a pioneer who comes to Nebraska as a child and grows with the country, inspiring a childhood friend, Jim Burden, to write her life story. The novel is important both for its literary aesthetic and as a portrayal of important aspects of American social ideals and history, particularly the centrality of migration to American culture. 
Writing
Holy smokes.  This is some of the most beautifully descriptive landscape writing I've ever experienced.   I drove through the prairie states as a child a few times, but it's never been a place I thought of as beautiful before reading Cather.  She manages to put so much emotion into the description of the prairie that you can't help but see it through her eyes.  Even if you've never been to that part of the country or seen the places Cather depicts, you can "see" it so clearly through her writing.  I had a crystal clear image of it in my head that I can still call up immediately in my mind.  The story itself is secondary to the description, which is something that I know will stick with me long-term.

Entertainment Value
I know when I say that plot takes a back seat to setting, a bunch of you started scrolling on past to the next post in your feed reader.  Trust me, I'm not typically one who really falls for descriptive settings.  In most cases, characterization and plot are my number ones, and excessive description is something that can really turn me off from a book (Tolkien, I'm looking at you).  This is the rare case in which the writing is so stunning and the description so vivid that it doesn't get old.  It helps that this isn't a giant tome - it's under 300 pages - and the story is there even if it's not the centerpiece.  The characters are also sympathetic and you do care what happens to them, so following their entire lives from childhood to middle age makes for an intriguing read.

Overall
This is vying with some of my all time favorites for current favorite book on my shelf.  First of all, just look at it.  It's stunning and the color is even prettier in real life.  It's also beautifully written and was something I had a hard time putting down, despite the fact that it doesn't fit the guidelines of what I typically enjoy.  I'd say it's a literary Little House on the Prairie for adult readers (or teens).  The best parts are the descriptions of the prairie itself and how life happened for those who lived there.  It's also a great choice if you're looking for a story about immigration and what that looked like in American history.  I strongly recommend at least giving it a try - you might be surprised to discover something unexpectedly refreshing!

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