TBR Challenge 2016 – O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
O PIONEERS! by Willa Cather was my choice for “something different,” our theme this month in SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge 2016. I succeeded in finding a book that’s a different style, as well as a classic from 1913 that focuses on the history of the prairie pioneers of North America, as well as examples of historic literature reviews and commentary. Willa Cather was an amazing woman very in touch with her talent and I can’t wait to read the rest of the GREAT PLAINS TRILOGY.
Why was it in Dorine’s TBR? I don’t remember purchasing this book so I’m assuming that I got it for free sometime in 2013. Since I’m currently using my Kindle more than my Nook, I forget about my older digital books. It’s like Christmas digging through that treasure trove of forgotten TBR. The main reasons I would have chosen this book is because I love the classics and farm history, both good components of this story.
My digital copy of O PIONEERS! by Willa Cather is part of the Barnes and Noble Classic series that includes an introduction by Chris Kraus, reviews from the early 1900s and discussion questions. It also includes the poem Pioneers! O Pioneers! by Walt Whitman, which inspired Willa Cather’s title for her book. I read the story first, then I read the rest of the information included so I had a chance to form my own opinion. I highly advise reading the book before the introduction. Even though the introduction is a thought-provoking interpretation, I think its delivery is better received after you’ve read the novel.
Alexandra Bergson is put in charge of her Swedish immigrant family’s Nebraska farm after her father’s death. She has a real head for business that her father recognized, so even though she has brothers, they’re told to listen to their older sister. That lasts for a few years, but eventually the farm property is divided among the siblings. Naturally, Alexandra’s section of property prospers the most due to her savvy business sense. O PIONEERS! is Alexandra’s family’s story of survival in a harsh land that unseated more than one people hoping to carve out their future.
At first, I wasn’t sure if this novel was for me. I’m so spoiled by romantic fiction, and its structure, that I was worried this book would end tragically and disappoint me. I was also confused with the lack of a hero, the first part of the book being more focused on the heroine, plus her family and friends. I kept wondering about the plot and where the book was leading me. Just before the halfway mark, I started to understand the book’s plot and the possible ramifications of the characters’ actions. I became absorbed for more than one reason with the creativity of this novel, plus the added features that lend to the understanding and discussion of the author’s talent.
O PIONEERS has a simple beauty that repeatedly proves the love of the land by its farmers. Some of the passages made me pause and think. One of my favorites is…
“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.”
As a gardener, I appreciated the mention of plants grown by the pioneers, such as Castor Beans – a poisonous plant I grew as an ornamental in my own garden. It made me wonder if they knew its toxicity and if they grew it just for its beauty, something that wasn’t really answered in the novel.
Willa Cather’s O PIONEERS! is sparsely written and yet, it evokes the sensation of a 600-page family saga, complete with tragedy and love, as well as a simplified version of a happy ending of a modern day romance. Even though it can be said O PIONEERS! lacks a hero, especially due to its feminist nature, it is all the more reason for every woman to read this author’s triumph. Budding novelists may enjoy this book for its ability to pack a punch in a small package while utilizing the five-act story structure. If you love North American pioneer history, especially those centered around farming communities, then put this short classic on your list to experience. I think it would make a great book club topic of discussion.
Review by Dorine, courtesy of The Zest Quest. Digital copy owned.
O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
Series: Great Plains Trilogy, Book 1
Category: Historical Fiction with romantic element
Publisher: Barnes & Noble Classics (June 1, 2009 – original 1913)
Rated 4 out of 5
For further reading, Books 2 and 3 of the Great Plains Trilogy are The Song of the Lark and My Antonia by Willa Cather.
Do you enjoy classic fiction?
May 19, 2016 at 5:23 am
This one certainly screams “something different”. I think you chose well.
You mention a romantic element, does that mean it ends up well?
Enjoy your reads!
May 19, 2016 at 7:54 pm
Hi Sonia! Thanks for visiting and sorry for the delay on your message showing up. Yes — it does have a happy ending. I wouldn’t call it a romance because it doesn’t dwell on a romantic relationship throughout the whole novel, but it does have one and it is a HEA.
May 19, 2016 at 10:00 am
This sounds very different from my normal fare but interesting all the same. I’m going to add it to my TBR pile. 🙂
May 19, 2016 at 7:56 pm
Sorry for the delay on your message showing up, Lynn. I’m not sure why my filters are doing that to you this time. I’m glad you found it interesting enough to add to your pile. I think as an author you’ll find it very intriguing.