As part of our ongoing work around the readers ’bookshelf, we asked the staff to share their thoughts on some of the inspirational texts in the collection.
This week, Lisa Sporgin, our Teaching and Learning Coordinator, shares her thoughts on the subject My Antonia By Villa Cathar.
Lyrics by Lisa Sporgin
“During the burning day we crossed Iowa, our conversation returned to a central figure, a bohemian girl we both knew long ago. More than anyone else we remembered, this girl seemed to mean to us the country, the conditions, the whole adventure of our childhood.”
Adolescence stories have a special resonance in literature – think of Jane Eyre, David Copperfield and many others. Maybe it’s because we were all there; Although we may not have had the same experiences, trials and tribulations as fictional colleagues, we all know what it is like to grow up, to try to find our way and way in the world; Often in a stumbling and uncertain way, on roads laden with mistakes and misses, as well as in hallmarks and achievements. As these types of stories go, My Antonia is a pretty amazing story, given where it is located both in time and place, where change will not be felt only by individuals but across an entire country.
In the late 19th century, the orphaned Jim Borden travels by train from Virginia to Black Hawk, Nebraska, to live with his grandparents. Being only ten years old, he is accompanied by Jake, a farm worker. Jim is the narrator of the novel, but – as you can guess from the title – he is not the only person at the heart of the story. Traveling on the same train with Jim and Jake the Shimarda family, who left their native Bohemia to create a new life in the Black Hawk. Although they can not imagine it on the first day, Jim and Antonia, the eldest daughter of Shimarda, create a friendship that crosses the boundaries of culture and time. Both Jim and Antonia will continue to become pioneers in their ways as they navigate life and grow up facing the vast and often difficult landscape of Nebraska.
We travel together with Antonia and Jim, experiencing their pleasures and tragedies, as well as the more common aspects of their daily lives. Not only do we get to see how their relationship develops but we also get to know a variety of characters that make up the fabric of their lives; My personal favorites are Lena Lingard, Tiny Soderball and the other ‘hired girls’ who aspire to see their hopes and dreams become a reality in a world that is brave but difficult. Although there are many people who go through Jim’s life, Antonia is the one who has the most lasting impact, and the novel is a testament to the quality of the relationships that many of us experience in our lives; The people who never leave us, even when we branch out – sometimes inevitably – in different directions.
I read My Antonia With a joint reading group I lead along with Katie Clark at a mansion in Calderstone (currently pending), back in 2019. Although it may not have been an immediate choice for something I would choose to read myself, I’m so glad I got the chance to do so. The stories of Antonia and Jim aroused so much for our readers, and in the end it felt like an amazing journey had been made.
If you miss exploring places far from the British Isles this year, I definitely recommend going alongside Jim and Antonia.
“Everything we missed, we held together in the precious, irreplaceable past.”