Book Review: O Pioneers!

Willa Cather
Houghton Mifflin, 1913

O’Pioneers is the story of immigrant pioneers in Nebraska around the turn of the twentieth century. The Bergson family, along with most of their neighbors, are Swedish immigrants who have never farmed before. Most of them are failing, but John Bergson, on his death bed, declares his wish that his daughter Alexandra be the one in charge of the farm over her two older brothers. John extracts a promise from Alexandra that she not leave the farm. John understands the intelligence, skill and foresight of his daughter. He knows she has what it takes to make the farm successful.

John Bergson was right. Even though other farms fail, Alexandra succeeds. She convinces her brothers to  mortgage part of the farm in order to buy up other properties. They work hard and work smart even during the hard times until the mortgages are paid off. However, her two older brothers are continuously at odds with her and eventually the farm is divided into three sections.

Although this is a classic book by a classic author, at times it feels like a soap opera. In addition to the tale of building up the farm, it’s also the story of two romances. One is between Alexandra and her friend Carl. The other is that of Emil (the youngest brother) and a young woman in an unhappy marriage. There are also lots of assorted characters who come in and out of the story.

The book deals with issues that must have surprised many people at the time of it’s writing. There is, of course, the story of a strong woman doing so well in spite of the counsel given her by her brothers and other men of the day. I enjoyed the concept of the different character traits of those who stayed on the farm and those who went to the cities and other countries. Although Alexandra is  happy on the farm, she wishes her younger brother could go away and not become like the older brothers. Her friend Carl, who has been away, believes he has achieved nothing of value by not being on the land.

I enjoyed the book. It was fun to step back in time and think through the issues of that day. I read this book for the Decades ’09 Challenge for the 1910’s.

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6 Responses to Book Review: O Pioneers!

  1. Kathy says:

    I was amazed when you said Alexandra succeeded in running the farm since the book was published in 1913. It sounds like it was before it’s time.

  2. Beth F says:

    I really loved this book — I like the pioneer time setting and the strong woman. I’m not an expert, but I’m not sure it was really all that unusual for woman to do a “man’s job” or stake claims under the Homestead Act. Life in the pioneer west did not reflect the social rules of the cities, Europe, or the east. Life was tough and you did what you had to do.

  3. Lynda says:

    Love the sound of this…must get it to read.
    I’ve nominated you for an award on my blog here:
    cos I love your blog! ;0)

  4. stacybuckeye says:

    I read Death Comes for the Archbishop by CAther a few years ago and thought it was ok, but this one does sound ahead of its time. Maybe I’ll have to add it to my ever increasing list.

  5. Pingback: Saturday Review of Books: March 7, 2009 at Semicolon

  6. Click says:

    I have to say I agree with most of what is being said here. I am gonna have to have to grab the rss so I can keep tabs. on what

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