Friday, December 18, 2015

One of Ours by Willa Cather

Willa Cather is mostly known for her novels set in the great prairies of middle America, and though I lived in Nebraska for three years, I didn't seriously start reading her novels until I moved far away to Florida and then Texas. In the past ten years, I've read nine of her novels, and it took me this long to read One of Ours,which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1923. It's both a prairie novel and a World War I novel. Mostly, it's about a young man who is searching for meaning in his life, and has to travel halfway around the world to find it.

The book starts about 1910, when Clyde Wheeler is a young man, splitting his time between his family's Nebraska farm and his education at a small religious college in Lincoln. He really wants to transfer to the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, but his parents fear that footballs and fraternities would be a bad influence; besides, they've decide he needs to work full-time on the farm. He loves his family, he loves the farm, but he wants more out of life. Over the next few years, things start to heat up in Europe, and he finally gets the chance to do something meaningful -- enlist in the army and fight in the Great War. Like The Professor's House, this could almost have been split into two different novels. 

For a war story, there isn't a whole lot of action, at least not until the very end. The first half of the book is mostly set in Nebraska, giving background and showing Clyde's disillusionment. A large chunk of the book details Clyde's journey overseas, especially the difficult sea voyage in which hundreds of his fellow soldiers fall ill (a significant percentage of soldiers died of disease, some before they actually saw any combat). When Clyde finally gets to France, there's a lot of vignettes about different people that he meets, soldiers and civilians, and how they impact his outlook on life. 

It's not what you'd call a fast-moving book with a lot of plot, but I loved the descriptions of farm life in Nebraska, and Clyde's character development. It's also inspired me to read moreWorld War I literature -- I still own Birdsong, The Guns of August, and Testament of Youth, which I'm planning to read next year for the Back to the Classics Challenge.

Bloggers, what other World War I books do you recommend?

8 comments:

  1. My favorite WWI: All Quiet on the Western Front. Excellent!

    BTW, isn't that like Cather, to move slowly through her stories? If you feel like chewing for a long time on a plot, she is a good choice. I just finished Song of the Lark, and while it is not my favorite, I can appreciate her writing for its pace through character and setting development. She really takes her time.

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    1. I agree about Song of the Lark. Willa Cather is not a writer of plot-heavy books, but the atmosphere and characterizations are always great.

      I remember All Quiet on the Western Front back in school, but it's been so long, I can't even remember if it was high school or college.

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  2. We are just beginning to study this time period in history and will be reading Sergeant York by John Perry, The Singing Tree by Kate Seredy, and Rascal by Sterling North. We are a home educating family so I will be reading these titles aloud to our 5th and 6th graders. We LOVE history!

    Thanks for your review. I read my first Cather novel this year as part of your Back the Classics challenge. I have not heard of One of Ours, but look forward to adding it to our Cather collection :)

    Blessings,
    Melissa

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    1. I didn't know Sergeant York was a book -- I've only heard of the movie (I think it stars Gary Cooper?). I'll have to look for the other titles. I'm glad you enjoyed Willa Cather, and thanks for participating in the Back to the Classics Challenge!

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    2. Yes, Gary Cooper won an Oscar for his role as York in the 1941 film. I'm hoping we can find a copy to watch through our public library system once we're finished reading :)

      There's also another book titled Sergeant York and the Great War by Tom Skeyhill that's supposed to be fabulous. It's actually a reprint of York's journal.

      Merry Christmas!

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  3. I really enjoyed One of Ours, I also recommend All Quiet on the Western Front and Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy.

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    1. I've heard great things about the Regeneration trilogy, thanks!

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  4. I read 14 WWI books for a 2012 reading challenge. If you're interested in seeing my list, you can see it on my blog, where my reviews are (http://scrappycat.blogspot.com/p/previous-years-challenges.html) or on Goodreads, where my star ratings are (https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/4673058?shelf=2012-world-war-i-reading-challenge). I remember that I liked Birdsong. My favorite book was probably The Light Between Oceans, by M.L. Stedman, which isn't so much about the war itself as about the effects of the war on the life of one of the main characters.

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