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It's ironic, then, that In America revolves around a regular paragon of self-consciousness: a brilliant Polish diva named Maryna Zalezowska. The year is 1876, and this Bernhardt-like figure has decided to abandon the stage and establish a utopian commune in (you guessed it) California. Not exactly a logical career move, is it? Yet this journey to America does involve a major feat of self-reinvention, for which Maryna may be uniquely qualified. Writing a letter home from the brave new world of Hoboken, New Jersey, she argues against the idea that "life cannot be restarted, that we are all prisoners of whatever we have become." And once she arrives in Anaheim with her husband, child, and fellow utopians in tow, she does seem to slough off the skin of her older, European self. She is now that exotic creature, an American, existing in an equally exotic landscape--which happens to elicit some of Sontag's most lyrical prose:
They had never felt as erect, as vertical, their skin brushed by the hot Santa Ana wind, their ears lulled by the oddly intrusive sound of their own footfalls.... Hardly anything is near anything here: those slouching braided sentinels, the yucca trees, and bouquets of drooping spears, the agaves, and the squat clusters of prickly pears, all so widely spaced, so unresembling--and nothing had to do with anything else.Like every utopia in human history, Maryna's is a failure. Following its collapse, she is moved to return to the theater--but as an American, now, plugged securely into the middlebrow culture of her adopted land. The rest of the novel charts her brilliant career among the philistines, along with a number of heated erotic detours.
Given its subject matter, Sontag's novel is oddly anti-dramatic: she juggles a half-dozen narrative strategies but seldom allows us to sink our teeth into a prolonged scene. Yet she delivers a great many other riches by way of compensation. Her take on the perils and pleasures of expatriation is worthy of Henry James (who actually makes a cameo appearance, assuring Maryna that England and America will morph into "one big Anglo-Saxon total.") And she includes a superbly entertaining portrait of theatrical life, culminating in a virtuoso monologue from Edwin Booth that suggests a Gilded Age Samuel Beckett. As always, there is the pleasure of watching the author's formidable intelligence at work, immersing us in the details of a character or landscape and then surfacing for a deep draught of abstraction. Perhaps Sontag is too cerebral to ever produce a straightforward work of fiction. But this time around, anyway, she brings both brains and literary brawn to bear on what Henry James himself called "the complex fate" of being an American. --James Marcus --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
A little hard to get into. My daughter helped me understand some of it as she is a literature professor.Published 11 months ago by Carmen McMahon
Unlike most stories of immigrants to America, this one focuses as much on the land and culture being left behind as on the new country. Read morePublished 16 months ago by Pauline A. Candaux
I have always wanted to read this book so when I saw it at a school fair I was happy to buy it. On the cover it says it won the National Book Award of 2000 and awards mean a good... Read morePublished on December 6, 2011 by Meredith
I was hoping for a long more than this from Sontag and the National Book Award committee. The story is somewhat of a cliche and the characters -- while noble in a sense -- are... Read morePublished on November 27, 2011 by J. Smallridge
"In America" is a strange, beautiful and difficult book among Susan Sontag's oeuvre. Better known by her non-fiction, this one is a quasi-departure from her milieu. Read morePublished on July 26, 2009 by A. T. A. Oliveira
A truly entertaining book that kept me captivated. I enjoyed Sontag's use of different writing styles to convey the many characters through the story.Published on April 21, 2009 by IronReader
In 1876 Poland's leading actress, Helena Modrzejewska, along with family and friends, including journalist and novelist Henryk Sienkiewicz ("Quo Vadis"), emigrated to southern... Read morePublished on November 8, 2008 by D. Cloyce Smith
In this novel, a Polish theater star travels to America with her troop of blindly smitten friends and family in the late 19th century to live off the land and hide from the... Read morePublished on January 9, 2006 by L. Walker
I have enjoyed the depth of Susan Sontag's lucid, witty essays in the New Yorker magazine, and recently we saw her on Cspan Book -TV. Read morePublished on April 22, 2003 by Karen Sampson Hudson