From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. The first of three planned volumes of Sontag's private journals, this book is extraordinary for all the reasons we would expect from Sontags writing—extreme seriousness, stunning authority, intolerance toward mediocrity; Sontags vulnerability throughout will also utterly surprise the late critic and novelists fans and detractors. At 15, when these journals began, Sontag (1933–2004) already displayed her ferocious intellect and hunger for experience and culture, though what is most remarkable here is watching Sontag grow into one of the century's leading minds. In these carefully selected excerpts (many passages are only a few lines), Sontag details her developing thoughts, her voluminous reading and daily movie-going, her life as a teenage college student at Berkeley discovering her sexuality (bisexuality as the expression of fullness of an individual), and meeting and marrying her professor Philip Rieff, with whom, at the age of 18, she had David, her only child. Most powerful are the entries corresponding to her years in England and Europe, when, apart from Philip and their son, the marriage broke down and Sontag entered intense lesbian relationships that would compel her to rethink her notions of sex, love (physical beauty is enormously, almost morbidly, important to me) and daughter- and motherhood, and all before the age of 30. Watching Sontag become herself is nothing short of cathartic. (Dec.)
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Rieff sensitively portrayed revered critic and novelist Sontag during her last days in Swimming in a Sea of Death (2008) and now continues to navigate the great sea of her legacy as editor of her journals. He didn’t want to open his mother’s private life to public eyes, but because her papers are available to scholars, he does so preemptively, granting readers access to the innermost thoughts of a genuine prodigy. In 1948, at age 15, Sontag asks, “And what is it to be young in years and suddenly awakened to the anguish, the urgency of life?” After starting college at 16, she fills her journals with passionate analysis of books, her intellectual ambitions, her struggle to accept her homosexuality, and the ecstasy and torment of her first lesbian relationship. Then, suddenly, this ardent seeker becomes a wife and mother. She loves her son, but marriage does not suit her, and her battle to reclaim her true self is one of several dramatic rebirths punctuating this electrifying record of Sontag striving to become Sontag. Two more volumes are planned. --Donna Seaman