Enter your mobile number below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
Getting the download link through email is temporarily not available. Please check back later.

  • Apple
  • Android
  • Windows Phone
  • Android

To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.

FREE Shipping on orders with at least $25 of books.
In Stock.
Ships from and sold by Amazon.com. Gift-wrap available.
In America: A Novel has been added to your Cart
FREE Shipping on orders over $25.
Condition: Used: Good
Have one to sell? Sell on Amazon
Flip to back Flip to front
Listen Playing... Paused   You're listening to a sample of the Audible audio edition.
Learn more
See all 2 images

In America: A Novel Paperback – May 4, 2001

2.9 out of 5 stars 49 customer reviews

See all 17 formats and editions Hide other formats and editions
New from Used from
"Please retry"
"Please retry"
$2.95 $0.01

Featured Titles in Fiction
$18.00 FREE Shipping on orders with at least $25 of books. In Stock. Ships from and sold by Amazon.com. Gift-wrap available.
click to open popover

Frequently Bought Together

  • In America: A Novel
  • +
  • The Volcano Lover: A Romance
  • +
  • Against Interpretation: And Other Essays
Total price: $43.75
Buy the selected items together

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

As an essayist, Susan Sontag has tended to stick pretty rigorously to the modern age, whether she's anatomizing the wild world of camp or roasting Leni Riefenstahl over the coals. But in her fiction--particularly in such fin-de-siècle productions as The Volcano Lover--she's clearly felt the allure of the past. And In America, which chronicles the travails of a late-19th-century actress, shows Sontag in top time-traveling form. What's more, it illuminates her motives for glancing so persistently backward. "Almost everything good seems located in the past," she notes in a first-person prologue, "perhaps that's an illusion, but I feel nostalgic for every era before I was born; and one is freer of modern inhibitions, perhaps because one bears no responsibility for the past." There's nothing, it seems, like the age of innocence--a golden moment before we moderns had the curse of self-consciousness brought down on our heads.

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.

From Publishers Weekly

As she did in The Volcano Lover, Sontag crafts a novel of ideas in which real figures from the past enact their lives against an assiduously researched, almost cinematically vivid background. Here again her signal achievement is to offer fresh and insightful commentary on the social and cultural currents of an age, with a distinctive understanding of how historical events forged character and destiny. If the story of renowned Polish actress Maryna Zalewska cannot compare in drama to that of Admiral Nelson and the Hamiltons (as a protagonist, Maryna remains somewhat shadowy and elusive), Sontag succeeds in conveying how the political and intellectual atmosphere of Poland and the U.S. in the late 19th century affected her heroine's life. Beautiful, famous and restless at 35, Maryna decides to leave her native land, suffering under Russian occupation. She convinces her husband, Count Bogdan Demboski, her would-be lover, journalist Ryszard Kierul, and various other members of the Warsaw intelligentsia to emigrate to America, where, influenced by Fourier's social philosophy, they will establish an experimental farm commune in southern California. Predictably, the community fails to prosper and falls into debt; idealism gives way to disillusionment; Maryna decides to resume her career, achieving immediate acclaim; and the romantic triangle moves to a new stage. Meanwhile, Sontag makes meaningful associations between a woman's need for freedom and independence, a nation's suffering under a conqueror's heel and the common human quest for "newness, emptiness, pastlessness... this dream of turning life into pure future" that colored many immigrants' views of America. She leads readers into the book via a long, breathless, one-paragraph prologue, narrated as if in a fever dream; indeed, it is not until many pages into the novel that the date and the geographical setting are established. Exemplary at imagining an actor's needs, impulses and sources of inspiration, Sontag also conveys the theatrical world of the time (East Lynne was the most popular play; Sarah Bernhardt reigned in Paris) almost palpably. There are few dramatic peaks and valleys in Maryna's story, but the historical backdrop--with pithy and evocative descriptions of American cities at the turn of the last century, cameo portraits of salty frontier types, and snippets of Western lore--supplies the vigor that the main plot often fails to engender. While this book does not exert the passionate energy of The Volcano Lover, it is a provocative study of a woman's life and the historical setting in which she moves. Author tour; U.K. rights to Jonathan Cape. (Mar.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

New York Times best sellers
Browse the New York Times best sellers in popular categories like Fiction, Nonfiction, Picture Books and more. See more

Product Details

  • Paperback: 398 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 1st edition (May 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312273207
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312273200
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1.1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #180,964 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Reading this book is like having someone snatch a particularly juicy feast out from under your nose before you've had the chance to enjoy it properly. "In America" is a rich tale to savor, but slices of it are underdone and it comes to such an abrupt end that the reader is left wondering what happened to the final course.
Starting the novel with an awkward Zero chapter--meant, I think, to better explain the characters--Susan Sontag tells of Maryna Zalezowska, the leading Polish actress of the 1870s, who comes to California to open a utopian commune near Anaheim. The commune quickly fails, and Zalezowska begins the task of reinventing herself as an American actress. She does this brilliantly, and begins a new career traveling across the United States in a private train car performing everything from Shakespeare to the 19th century's favorite sob-fest, "East Lynne."
The sections on how an actress of that age learned and prepared roles, and the insight into nuts-and-bolts workings of 19th century American theater are marvelous, as are the stunning monologue chapters expressing the three main characters' internal and external struggles (the book ends with a devastating monologue by Edwin Booth that is one terrific piece of writing). On the other hand some of the characters are barely sketched and "In America" simply ends. There's no resolution, no sense that the last page of the book should be the last page-in fact, you'll probably turn that page expecting a concluding chapter. And you'll feel cheated.
There's something mean about allowing readers such access to characters' minds and emotions and then chopping the narrative when there is obviously so much to come. Is it that Sontag can't sustain the narrative?
Read more ›
Comment 78 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
Format: Paperback
Generally, the reviews of In America here are dazzylingly unfair. Certainly, reading this novel is not like sitting down and watching TV, or even reading the Sunday New York Times. The novel demands that the reader read changes of style, tone, shift in narrative focus, change from letters to first person narrative back to third person narrative, to a sort of interior monologue. What is wrong with this, if it is done with control, as Songtag does, except for the fact it demands that readers fail to be lazy? So, this is not a novel for the easily frazzled. It demands faith from the reader, but rewards the reader for this trust with a deep investigation of what it means to be an American and human.
2 Comments 15 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
Format: Paperback
The plot of "In America", Susan Sontag's National Book Award-winning novel, is adumbrated in her introductory note, where she describes the real historical life that inspired the fictional work. In Sontag's words, the novel was "inspired by the emigration to America in 1876 of Helena Modrzejewska, Poland's most celebrated actress, accompanied by her husband, Count Karol Chlapowski, her fifteen-year-old son Rudolf, and the young journalist and future author of `Quo Vadis' Henryk Sienkiewicz, and a few friends; their brief sojourn in Anaheim, California; and Modrzejewska's subsequent triumphant career on the American stage under the name of Helen Modjeska." While Sontag strongly emphasizes that the characters and actions depicted in her novel are purely invented (and there is no reason to believe the contrary), the plot largely follows the biography that inspired it.
"In America" begins in a post-modernist fashion, the book's "Chapter Zero" being the first person narrative of a contemporary authorial voice who finds herself coming out of the cold winter of an unidentified Eastern European city, shivering, into a party in the private dining room of a hotel more than a hundred years earlier. There is seemingly a disjunction of time and place. The narrator does not understand the language the people are speaking, "but somehow, I didn't question how, their words reached me as sense." From this point, the authorial voice, the imagination, begins naming the people in the room-in effect, begins creating the characters that will populate the tale to follow-and begins probing the animated conversation she overhears, the snippets of enigmatic dialogue that will gradually accrete into the novel.
Read more ›
Comment 11 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
Format: Paperback
Award winning literature should provoke thoughtful questions. Susan Sontag's "In America" prompted my bookclub to ask: 1) Where the heck was her editor? 2) Was it simply Susan Sontag's turn to win the National Book Award? 3) If "In America" was penned by an unknown author, would it have even been published? 4) Did the guy who was quoted on the back cover actually read the book? Would he please tell us where the "hilarious" parts are? 5) Why did the chapters that were 1 paragraph yet 17+ pages long irritate us so? 6) Does a single interesting premise like "Immigrating to a new country allows you to reinvent yourself" merit 387 tedious pages? and finally 7) Why the heck did our bookclub pick this book?
1 Comment 21 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
Format: Paperback
I share the same sentiment that others have expressed: Why did this book receive the National Book Award? From its disconnected beginning, to its rambling stream of consciousness ending, the book lacks cohesiveness, character development, and theme. Even the plot is trite and fails to captivate. One senses that Sontag was rushed in the writing -- perhaps hoping to fulfill a contract? Although she bothers to take some time in the beginning to explore Maryna's desire to retreat to America, her family background, and initial delvings into the theatre; Sontag literally whisks the reader through the middle of the book to its conclusion -- dabbling at Maryna's theatre excursions in San Francisco and her touring trip with her husband. More frustrating is Sontag's constant fluxing of writing style -- from hypothetical letters, to experimental conversation in which she addresses multiple people (upon Maryna's brief return to Poland), to the gibberish of a soliloquy delivered by Edwin Booth.
Ultimately, the book fails to achieve a unified theme. Sontag hints at the destruction of a utopian society, at the strange interworkings of a marriage of convenience, at an actress's chameleonic personality, at the "plight" of the privileged immigrant. However, none of these themes is explored in depth, nor does any one seem to be the author's driving motivation behind the book. Similarly, none of the characters' behavior offers convincing explanation; and therefore, not a single character won my sympathy or understanding.
For a captivating book on immigration to the West, as well as the profound, analytical exploration of two very different people in a marriage, I highly recommend Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose instead. In America is a weak, languishing similitude of that great book, at best.
Comment 10 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse

Most Recent Customer Reviews