Sunday, January 27, 2013

O Pioneers!

O Pioneers! was the first book that Willa Cather wrote as part of her "prairie trilogy."  Written one hundred years ago, with the title of the book based on a Walt Whitman poem, O Pioneers! is a great book that features the Nebraska landscape which is also the setting for The Song of the Lark and My Antonia.  The novel's protagonist is Alexandra Bergson, a Swedish immigrant who came to the United States with her family as a child.  Using her business know-how and instinct, Alexandra is able to help her family's farm grow and prosper.  Other wonderfully drawn characters include Alexandra's brother Emil, the first in his family to go to college (his farmer brothers Lou and Oscar think his education ruined him), the captivating and radiant neighbor Marie, and Ivar, the barefoot elder who lives in a cave and tends to Alexandra's horses in the later years of his life. 

The book explores family relationships, forbidden love, and the experience of working the land.  It is an easy read and a really good story, but my favorite of Cather's prairie trilogy is My Antonia.  Nonetheless, these are some of my favorite lines from O Pioneers!:

"...the all-suffusing brightness of being twenty-one..."
"I'm cowardly about things that remind me of myself."
"Out of her father's children, there was one who was fit to cope with the world, who had not been tied to the plow, who had a personality apart from the soil.  And that, she reflected, was what she had worked for." 
"It was like a sigh which they had breathed together; almost sorrowful, as if each were afraid of awakening something in the other."
"Good night, sister.  I think you did pretty well by us."

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