'The best thing I've done is My Antonia,' recalled Willa Cather. 'I feel I've made a contribution to American letters with that book.' Set against the vast Nebraska prairie, Cather's elegiac novel features one of the most winning heroines in American fiction-Antonia Shimerda-a young woman whose strength and passion epitomize the triumphant vitality of this country's pioneers. 'If, as is often said, every novelist is born to write one thing, then the one thing that Willa Cather was born to write was first fully realized in My Antonia,' observed Pulitzer Prize-winning author Wallace Stegner.
Gr 7 Up-In Jim Burden's accounting of his life with, and without, Antonia Shimerda, listeners are transported to the hardscrabble Nebraska prairie and the rural immigrant experience. When Jim first sees the Shimerda family, immigrants from Bohemia, disembarking from the same train that is taking him West to live with his grandparents, he has no idea the impact they will have on his life. Nostalgically, he remembers the good and bad times they had on their respective farms and creates his portrait of Antonia, an independent and tough survivor. The brief biography of author Willa Cather at the beginning of the CD explains how her life mirrors Antonia's life in many ways, helping listeners understand the context of the story. Patrick Lawlor's rich, fluid voice lends an air of sophistication to Burden, reinforcing the class structure inherent at the beginning of the 20th century. Lawlor's attempts to create voices for the characters often falls flat. Since the novel is Burden's reminiscence, it would have been better told in Burden's voice alone. Since My Antonia continues to be a staple in many English curriculums, this is a good audiobook for schools and public libraries to have available.-Lynn Evarts, Sauk Prairie High School, Prairie du Sac, WA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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June 28, 2004
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Excerpt from My Antonia by Willa Cather
I first heard of Antonia on what seemed to me an interminable journey across the great midland plain of North America. I was ten years old then; I had lost both my father and mother within a year, and my Virginia relatives were sending me out to my grandparents, who lived in Nebraska. I travelled in the care of a mountain boy, Jake Marpole, one of the 'hands' on my father's old farm under the Blue Ridge, who was now going West to work for my grandfather. Jake's experience of the world was not much wider than mine. He had never been in a railway train until the morning when we set out together to try our fortunes in a new world.
We went all the way in day-coaches, becoming more sticky and grimy with each stage of the journey. Jake bought everything the newsboys offered him: candy, oranges, brass collar buttons, a watch-charm, and for me a Life of Jesse James, which I remember as one of the most satisfactory books I have ever read. Beyond Chicago we were under the protection of a friendly passenger conductor, who knew all about the country to which we were going and gave us a great deal of advice in exchange for our confidence. He seemed to us an experienced and worldly man who had been almost everywhere; in his conversation he threw out lightly the names of distant states and cities. He wore the rings and pins and badges of different fraternal orders to which he belonged. Even his cuff-buttons were engraved with hieroglyphics, and he was more inscribed than an Egyptian obelisk.
Once when he sat down to chat, he told us that in the immigrant car ahead there was a family from 'across the water' whose destination was the same as ours.
'They can't any of them speak English, except one little girl, and all she can say is 'We go Black Hawk, Nebraska.' She's not much older than you, twelve or thirteen, maybe, and she's as bright as a new dollar. Don't you want to go ahead and see her, Jimmy? She's got the pretty brown eyes, too!'
This last remark made me bashful, and I shook my head and settled down to Jesse James. Jake nodded at me approvingly and said you were likely to get diseases from foreigners.
I do not remember crossing the Missouri River, or anything about the long day's journey through Nebraska. Probably by that time I had crossed so many rivers that I was dull to them. The only thing very noticeable about Nebraska was that it was still, all day long, Nebraska.