O Pioneers! – Willa Cather

Summary from Goodreads:

O Pioneers! (1913) was Willa Cather’s first great novel, and to many it remains her unchallenged masterpiece. No other work of fiction so faithfully conveys both the sharp physical realities and the mythic sweep of the transformation of the American frontier—and the transformation of the people who settled it. Cather’s heroine is Alexandra Bergson, who arrives on the wind-blasted prairie of Hanover, Nebraska, as a girl and grows up to make it a prosperous farm. But this archetypal success story is darkened by loss, and Alexandra’s devotion to the land may come at the cost of love itself.

Where has Willa Cather been all my life? Until fairly recently, I had barely even heard of her, but now I want to read everything she has ever written. In preparation for my road trip across the USA I have been reading a lot of American literature and I picked up O Pioneers! after a dear friend and former colleague recommended it to me. In short, I thought it was beautifully written, both simple and epic, and so perfectly captured the harsh, windswept prairielands of Nebraska.

Reading this book, it was clear to me that Cather knew the land which she describes intimately, and felt a strong connection to it. Her descriptions of the prairielands are so vivid and rich, as are her portrayals of the various peoples (Bohemians, Swedes, Norwegians, French, etc.) who settled there. As enamoured as I was with the richness of these descriptions, I did still feel that the story was a little, I don’t know, undercooked? Some of the characters felt a bit one-dimensional and I didn’t really care for the melodramatic finale. Honestly, I would happily have read 600+ pages about farmers planting crops and fighting the elements, but tragic love triangles? Meh.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that I disliked this book. The aspects of O Pioneers! that I loved, I really loved. This was my first Cather, and it certainly won’t be my last, as I felt a real connection to her writing that left me craving more. I have a good feeling that her other works, such as My Ántonia and Death Comes for the Archbishop, will be more fully formed and even more to my liking. At least I hope so.

Have you read O Pioneers? Or anything else by Willa Cather? What do you think of her writing? Would love to hear from you. Sorry it’s been so long since I last posted. 

~Anna

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