Cover image for In America : a novel
In America : a novel
Sontag, Susan, 1933-2004.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000.
Physical Description:
387 pages ; 24 cm
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 7.5 23.0 51777.
Geographic Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Central Library
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
X Adult Fiction Open Shelf
X Adult Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



The Volcano Lover, this author's best-selling 1992 novel, retold the love story of Emma Lady Hamilton & Lord Nelson with consummate power. In her enthralling new novel - once again based on a real story - the author shows us our own country on the cusp of modernity. In 1876 a group of Poles led by Maryna Zalewska, Poland's greatest actress, travel to California to found a "utopian" commune. Maryna, who has renounced her career, is accompanied by her small son & husband; in her entourage is a rising young writer who is in love with her. The novel portrays a West that is still largely empty, where white settlers confront native Californians & Asian coolies. The image of America, & of California - as fantasy, as escape, as radical simplification - constantly meets a more complicated reality. The commune fails & most of the emigres go home, but Maryna stays & triumphs on the American stage. In America is a big, juicy, surprising book - about a woman's search for self-transformation, about the fate of idealism, about the world of the theater - that will captivate its readers from the first page. It is this authors most delicious, most brilliant achievement.

Author Notes

Susan Sontag was born in New York City on January 16, 1933. She received a B.A. from the University of Chicago and did graduate work in philosophy, literature and theology at Harvard University and Saint Anne's College, Oxford University. She was the author of 17 books including four novels, a collection of short stories, several plays, and eight works of nonfiction. Her novels are The Benefactor, Death Kit, The Volcano Lover, and In America, which won the 2000 National Book Award for fiction. On Photography received the 1978 National Book Critics Circle Award. Her stories and essays have appeared in numerous magazines including The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, and Art in America. She also wrote and directed four feature films and stage plays in the United States and Europe. She died from leukemia on December 28, 2004 at the age of 71.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

It's 1876, and Poland's reigning actress, the beloved Maryna Zalezowska, is feeling stifled by the adoration of her fans and the sorrows of her beleaguered country. At 35, she has lived only for the theater and is now in dire need of spiritual renewal. She and her ever-obedient husband, their young son (hers not his), and her entourage of admirers, including a young writer who is fervently in love with her, seek refuge in a small mountain village. The beauty of the landscape and the seeming simplicity of rural life, coupled with Maryna's fascination with utopian communities, then all the rage in America, inspire her to orchestrate a bold move that delivers them to a ranch in Anaheim, California, where they attempt to live off the land. Just as in her last novel, The Volcano Lover (1992), and in her play, Alice in Bed (1993), Sontag has stoked her well-schooled imagination with biography, improvising this time on the life of the renowned Polish actress Helena Modrzejewska. But there is as much of Sontag in her magnificent heroine as of her chosen model, and she has never been more enchanting, wiser, or wittier on the subjects of love and art. By writing from several points of view, Sontag explores the complexities of friendship, romance, and marriage. And her own faith in the transformative power of the theater, brought to such profound fruition in her work in Sarajevo during the war, is evident in the energy with which she chronicles Maryna's courageous return to the stage. Restored by and finally bored with her pioneer role, Maryna overrides American resistance to all things foreign to become a genuine American diva, and her triumphant coast-to-coast tour enables Sontag to turn America itself into a character of many faces and moods. Maryna's evolution as a woman and an artist is a tremendously compelling story by virtue not only of Sontag's consummate narrative skills but also by its embodiment of her passionate commitment to creativity as a path to freedom. --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Promised since last January, this novel may really be happening in September. Sontag's protagonist is a great Polish actress who leads a band of followers to California to found a commune. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.