My Antonia by Willa Cather
I read a slew of Willa Cather books when I first moved to Nebraska. (Cather is from Red Cloud). This is my favorite of them all, hands down. The description of the mysterious dried mushrooms, the snowflakes falling from the sky like big feathers from a pillow, the farm plow silhouetted against the setting sun---Cather etches scenery into your mind's eye in an unforgettable way. The characters drawn from the fictional Black Hawk, Nebraska are complex and multi-faceted and if you've any past connection with rural America, they will without a doubt strike a resemblance to someone you know. Alas for the young or the city-dweller who may have no such example in the memory bank.
This is a character driven novel, centering on the Bohemian girl Antonia, who came with her family to Nebraska to homestead in the late 1800s. Antonia typifies a nearly extinct class of immigrant women who bore the crushing weight of hard work, want, misunderstanding, and hardship that accompanied the immigrant/pioneer experience. The west was not civilized apart from the Antonias, whose inner vivacity could not be extinguished by the daily hard labor, or by poverty, loneliness, and death. Willa Cather has gifted future generations by carving the likeness of such strong women in stone so that our heritage is not forgotten.
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