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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

Virtue And Passion In Early America

O Pioneers! - Willa Cather

Set at the end of the nineteenth century, O Pioneers tells the story of Alexandra Bergson, a Swedish immigrant to Nebraska, as well as that of her family and the community that surrounds them. It depicts their struggle to make a living in land that had never before been broken to the plough.

There is a clarity and a simple beauty to the prose that I found immediately appealing; and through every page runs an almost overwhelming sense of place. Willa Cather knows and clearly loves the countryside she describes and the vast emptiness of the prairie is as much a protagonist in this novel as any of the characters.

What interests Will Cather chiefly, however, is the interaction between the land and the people who came from the Old World to develop it. She details all the pettiness and jealousy of an isolated rural community so convincingly that I was put in mind of George Eliot’s claustrophobic descriptions in The Mill On The Floss. Like The Mill On The Floss, this is also a book about the rival claims of virtue and passion and the endurance of the human spirit.