Wednesday, August 17, 2011

O Pioneers! and The Omaha Bookworms

The Omaha Bookworms met last night to discuss Willa Cather's O Pioneers! and, let's be honest, talk about everything else going on in our lives. Since we're located in Nebraska, we've been talking for some time about reading a book by a Nebraska author. When it came time to choose our classic read for this year, I decided it was time to do just that.
"There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before; like the larks in this country, that have been singing the same five notes over for thousands of years."
Cather's O Pioneers tells the story of Alexandra Bergson, whose family has immigrated to Nebraska from Sweden. After eleven years of hard work to reach the point where the family is debt free, John Bergson dies, leaving Alexandra in charge of the farm, her mother and her three younger brothers. John has chosen wisely; Alexandra has a keen mind when it comes to farming. By listening to others and being willing to go against the general consensus, Alexandra manages to tame the land and help the entire family to prosper.

As attuned as she is to the land, Alexandra is not nearly as attuned to her feelings or those around her. It will be years before she realizes that she is in love with long-time friend, Carl Linstrum and even longer before she becomes aware of the feelings her youngest brother, Emil, has developed for a married woman.
"Marie often wondered if there was anyone else who could look his thoughts to you as Emil could."
"It was like a sigh they had breathed together, almost sorrowful, as fi each were afraid of wakening something in the other."
The greatest love story of the book, however is Cather's love of and respect for the land.
"Winter has settled down over the Divide again, the season in which Nature recuperates, in which she sinks to sleep between the fruitfulness of autumn and the passion of spring."
O Pioneers! was a hit with the Bookworms. Cather's writing particularly impressed; all of those who had finished the book raved about Cather's use of language to describe the land and the people who settled it. For a book that we all agreed is an easy read, this book is full themes to discuss: alcoholism, religion, love, temptation, forgiveness and feminism.

Written in 1913, Cather had long since left Nebraska and moved to New York to be with her lover, Isabelle McClung. That fact alone might have something to do with this being the 83rd most frequently banned or challenged book. I enjoyed this one so much, I think I'm going to have to go back and re-read Cather's My Antonia which I had no appreciation for on first reading. Now I am absolutely enchanted by Cather's way with words.


  1. I have never read Cather, but always wanted to, and this books sounds like just the place to start with her. I like the synopsis of this one, and the fact that you mention that the writing was stellar also has me excited. I need to see where I can get my hands on a copy of this. Preferably for my Kindle. This was such a great review, and I am glad that your book group loved it!

  2. This was a great choice for a book set in Nebraska! I'm so glad everyone in your group enjoyed it. Cather's writing is breathtaking, her descriptions are amazing! It's so sad O'Pioneers is banned in places...I'm sure some onject to some of her themes but as you pointed out, her lifestyle probably disturbs some close-minded, not enlightened folks.

    I hope you enjoy My Antonia more the second time you read it. It really is a wonderful book.

  3. This book was my first experience with Cather and I just loved it--will be rereading it soon actually. Glad you all enjoyed it!

  4. I've been meaning to read her other book My Antonia. I didn't know she had written this. I'm thinking I may start with this one instead. Great review~!

  5. Glad to hear your book group reacted so positively. I love O Pioneers! even more than My Antonia. Have also enjoyed some of Cather's stories. Now I seem to be acquiring quite a few of her novels... must make time to read them!

  6. I've got this book and My Antonia on my eReader to read one day so I'm really pleased to see how much you and your book club liked it.

  7. This is definitely one of my all time favorites! The movie is great too. Last time I was driving through Nebraska, I wanted to stop at the Willa Cather museum in Red Cloud, but it was too late in the day and it was already closed. Hopefully I can make it up there again someday! Happy reading!

  8. This is an author who is on my "I meant to read her but haven't yet" list. I would probably have read My Antonia, had I not read this review first -- but now I think I will try O Pioneers. I wonder if I can find it free for my iPad.