My Antonia, Willa Cather, 1918

A beautiful  book—the first novel in Philip Fisher’s course on the American novel—that merits its reputation as Cather’s greatest and a true classic.  It has superb descriptions of the Nebraska plains, small town life in Black Hawk, the rigors of farming, the heartbreaks and challenges of immigrants in a foreign land without language, the uncertainties of adolescence and the joys of childhood, the strengths and hatreds of families.  Cather draws her characters with a fine paintbrush, providing beautiful and telling details, and with great insight enabling the reader to develop strong feelings for them.  Tears came to my eyes twice in this brief novel.  Jimmy Burden, Otto and Jake, Mr. and Mrs.  Harling and Frances, Antonia Shimerda and her parents from Bohemia, the farm girls from Sweden, Norway, and Denmark who move to town to ‘service’ and then either marry and live well on large farms or move to Lincoln, San Francisco, or the Klondike.  Jimmy, sent from Virginia at age 10 to live with his grandparents when his parents die, ends up going to the state university in Lincoln and then Harvard and embarks on a successful legal career but never forgets his roots.  A novel of family, immigration, hard work, and independence movingly told.