John Young (Standard British accent)
A recommendation, not for one book only, but for three books, a trilogy by Willa Cather. She’s an author who was born in 1873, and belongs to a generation before that of the more famous modernist names like Scott Fitzgerald and William Carlos Williams, John Dos Passos, and she has fallen, as a result, partly of their fame, slightly into a… into a sort of forgotten corner of American literature, but she is much loved for these three books, which are O Pioneers, The Song of the Lark and My Antonia (he pronounces it one way – ed), which is what most people call it, although in fact it should be pronounced “My Antonia” (he pronounces it another way – ed), which is very difficult to do, but it’s the Czech pronunciation of the immigrant family who call the titular heroine “An… Antonia” – I find it very hard to bring it out as well! The three books are about pioneer families in Nebraska. Willa Cather was originally from Virginia but her family moved when she was very young to Nebraska, and she writes of ordinary people, ordinary families growing up as first generation immigrants in the new American West, in Nebraska. And she has a truth, a human truth, and an honesty about the stories, a wisdom, I think, in her view of why people love, hate, get together, drift apart, which is extremely moving. She’s a writer that has very few frills, which means that she’s easier for the foreign student to read because she doesn’t present you with great obstacles of style or narrative devices that are hard to fathom, and at the same time she’s immensely rewarding, I think, simply on the… on the level of her gentle observant honesty. I find her a very moving writer and I can’t really recommend her too highly.
(John Young was talking to Mark Worden)