Tuesday, January 20, 2015

O Pioneers! - My First Willa Cather Novel....

I have been wanting to read a Willa Cather novel for years.  I'm not sure why I put it off.   Suddenly, it struck me, now is the time!.  So to kick off the new year, I started with O Pioneers!  When I closed the book, the only word that came to mind was, "WOW!"...and I mean this for better and worse.  Let's back up...


Alexandra Bergson is the daughter of a Swedish immigrant, who is orphaned in her early twenties.  On her father's death bed, he appoints Alexandra as caretaker of his 640-acre farm and her three younger brothers, Oscar, age nineteen, Lou, age seventeen, and little Emil.   Despite Oscar and Lou's constant criticism and doubt, as well as three years of drought, Alexandra is highly successful.  She acquires more property as well as a host of farmhands.  Eventually, she is able to divide off debt free shares for Oscar and Lou, who both marry and have families of their own.  Alexandra remains single and the dedicated leader of the estate.  She becomes a role model for others longing for success on the rugged plains of Nebraska. 

Alexandra's prosperity enables her to send her beloved youngest brother, Emil, to college only for him to come home and fall in love with childhood friend, Marie (Tovesky) Shabata, who is now a married woman.  After a twisted tryst ends in murder, Alexandra is finally able to find solace in her long time love, Carl Linstrum.

I fell in love with the book from the start.  So much so, that I talked The Farmer into reading our duplicate copy so we could have discussion ;-)  But, Emil's kiss at the Church of Sainte-Agnes dinner made me so mad, I almost couldn't finish reading.  I was thinking it would happen sooner or later, but the way Emil walked away afterward seemed arrogant and self serving. 

I was totally unprepared for the murder scene.  It was gruesome!  I felt like this sweet classic novel was plodding along...then, suddenly, I was reading a graphic horror novel.   It caught me out of nowhere.  Again, I set the book aside.  However, The Farmer got ahead of me reading and made a suggestion that Alexandra may hook up with Frank Shabata.  I had to continue!  Thankfully, his prediction did not come to fruition.  However in true Alexandra fashion, she did forgive him and promise to work toward his parole.  

Both The Farmer and I were disappointed with the ending.  We felt it left the reader hanging, particularly with such a horrific climax, the ending was a fall.  Overall, O Pioneers! was a good read.  I didn't have expectations to start.  Sometimes neutral is a good place to be.  I will read another Cather novel in the future, quite possibly My Antonia...or maybe you have a suggestion.  I LOVE comments!  Please let me know your favorite Cather novel and if you've read O Pioneers!, I'd like to hear your thoughts...

I'm qualifying O Pioneers! as by Classic by a Woman in the 2015 Back to the Classics Challenge.


  1. I've not read any Willa Cather novels. But I have seen the Hallmark movie production of O Pioneers. From what you've written in your post, it sounds like the movie followed the book pretty well.

  2. Oh, I'll have to check that out....thanks!!