Tuesday, March 3, 2009

My Antonia

I don’t know what took me so long to get to Willa Cather; she was a vast, unknown entity to me, much like the landscape she writes about. But I became addicted to My Antonia from the first lines and came to fall in love with Antonia as much as the hard, cruel land of the Great Plains in which we meet her as a little Bohemian girl with bare feet and tattered skirts.

My Antonia is a poignant love story, but not a traditional one. (Sorry to spoil it, but) The boy doesn’t get the girl, though the whole story points to his deep and lasting affection for her and their shared childhood. On meeting her much later in life, our protagonist, Jim Burden, remarks that, “I was thinking, as I watched her, how little it mattered – about her teeth, for instance. I know many women who have kept all the things she had lost, but whose inner glow has faded. Whatever else was gone, Antonia had not lost the fire of life.”

Perhaps we all have someone in our past for whom we still see only beauty where the world does not. Or, should we be so lucky, someone who sees in us only the spark of life that won't be smothered.

But as Jim says, “Whatever we had missed, we possessed together the precious, the incommunicable past.”

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