My Ántonia by Willa Cather
I was surprised by the similarities between the Laura Ingalls Wilder books and My Ántonia. It's true that both are set in the American Mid West in the 19th century but the Ingalls Wilder books are written for children so I was not expecting too many parallels. However, the landscape described in Cather's book, with the flat land and waving red grasses and dug-out houses, was very familiar to me from reading Little House in the Prairie as a child. The description of Black Hawk, the small town where Burden goes to school and Ántonia works as a hired girl, reminds me of the town where Laura and her family move for her high school years in the sequel Little Town on the Prairie. However, I don't remember the immigrant theme being particularly developed in the Ingalls Wilder books and this was central to My Ántonia.
It was really interesting to have the book peopled with Bohemians and Russians and Norwegians and to show the differences and commonalities with everyone else. For example, the importance the Bohemian family attaches to finding a Catholic priest to say masses for their father's soul, rather than buying a new coat for the youngest girl to wear in winter. Or how the oldest children don't get the chance to go to school because they have to work and help support the family, but the younger ones do. We see all of this through the narrator's eyes and he is a great champion for the immigrants - passionate about how full of life and vigour the immigrant girls were compared with everyone else.
The structure of the novel is quite interesting - the story is told in episodes from various stages of the narrator's life. Although it's more or less chronological, in some ways it feels more like a portrait than a novel. I mean that in a good way - I found it very easy to read with wonderful language but the lasting impression at the end is a snapshot of particular people at a particular place over a number of years in a particular period in time rather than one character's story.
41 down, 59 to go.