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In America

3.29  ·  Rating Details ·  1,396 Ratings  ·  143 Reviews
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 and 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 Califo ...more
Paperback, 398 pages
Published May 4th 2001 by Picador (first published 1999)
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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. RowlingThe Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen ChboskyThe Bad Beginning by Lemony SnicketGirl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy ChevalierSpeak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Best Books of 1999
69th out of 267 books — 140 voters
The Spectator Bird by Wallace StegnerWorld of Our Fathers by Irving HoweBlood Tie by Mary Lee SettleThe Path Between the Seas by David McCulloughGoing After Cacciato by Tim O'Brien
National Book Awards since 1977
47th out of 74 books — 1 voter

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Community Reviews

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Jun 23, 2008 Eric rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
Let me be perfectly clear——I am a huge fan of Susan Sontag's criticism. "Against Interpretation and Other Essays", "On Photography", and "Regarding the Pain of Others" are books I go back to repeatedly for their ahead-of-their-time provocative points of view. After finishing "In America," I feel it's the critical side of Sontag that makes her fiction suffer. The writing is accomplished and refined, and, formally, the constantly shifting points of view rendered through various writing forms such ...more
Feb 09, 2015 Janet rated it it was amazing
A novel about the nineteeth century commune of the great Polish actress Helena Modjeska-- in the era of Bernhardt. It was located near Anaheim California. What an outrageous boatload of bohemians! The commune predated the progressive era's burgeoning of California cults and communes by thirty years. Susan Sontag only wrote two novels, both of them historical, and her sense of character, her ability to bring to life such a wacky crew of intelligentsia utopians, is to be treasured. That Sontag was ...more
Dec 06, 2011 Meredith rated it did not like it
Like Walking in Mud

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. The plot is great - a famous Polish actress decides to emigrate to America with her family and friends and start a community in southern California. The story follows their decision to move to America and the eventual failure of their community and the reinvention of self - a homage to the Ameri
Pedro Varanda
May 24, 2016 Pedro Varanda rated it really liked it
O melhor romance desta grande escritora, que conseguiu captar excelentemente o que significa a América como terra de sonhos, de recomeços, de oportunidades, onde começar de novo tem muitos mais níveis e camadas do que pode parecer. Recomendo.
Ron Charles
Dec 13, 2013 Ron Charles rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Forget the old boys club: The most engaging historical fiction is being written by women. What's worse, they have the audacity to make it fun.

In Ahab's Wife, Sena Jeter Naslund dared to revise Melville's classic "Moby Dick." Anita Shreve re-created a tense custody battle at the turn of the 20th century in Fortune's Rocks. And Tracy Chevalier painted a stirring portrait of a maid in Johannes Vermeer's house.

These recent books share the same strengths: All of them are carefully researched, lavishl
In America is an historical novel, yet it is more. It is a novel about identity, about names and words and people who leave their homeland for a new unknown and undiscovered land called America. The novel is one where the stage and all that it represents mirrors life -- a story set near the end of the nineteenth century.
On the first page of the novel the motif of the stage is hinted at by how snow flakes seen through a window are described as a "scrim" for the moonlight in the background. The u
Feb 14, 2011 Gina rated it did not like it
Ugh, one of the most dismally boring books I have ever read! Why can I not just discard it? Somehow I always think it will get better and I drag myself through to the bitter end.
What is up with Susan Sontag here? This must be some secret passion she always had...telling the story of a Polish "theataaah" actress.
It's like Gus Van Sant's remake of Psycho...huh? What was he thinking!
Unless you are truly into "Theataaaah" and I mean in the WORST way, then this book is for you!
The main character is
Andrea Fortwendel
Apr 24, 2008 Andrea Fortwendel rated it really liked it
This book is so full of intelligence. Her literary and historic references enlighten. Her character's introspection gives the reader questions to ponder and profundities to wrestle with. I liked her different uses of voice and narrative style throughout the book. It distinguished quite a bit between characters and between acting and living. The book gave Shakespeare's "All the world's a stage" new meaning. I absolutely was enchanted by the first 3/4 of the novel. I wouldn't say that I was disapp ...more
Susan Sontag, in the tradition of Kafka and Pavese, wants to write a European book about American novelty, with the hitch that she's an American novelist.

This is the first time I've read any of her fiction, and it shows the same erudition and elegant style as her nonfiction. America is space and possibility and alienation from ritual and coarse capitalism and such. Old themes, for sure, but well-told. If you can get past the big/shitty hump that is the first chapter, a very worthy read.
Sep 03, 2015 Andrea rated it really liked it
Shelves: marriage
This is a story about love and friendship. It's set ostensibly as a utopian experiment. You could say that marriage is a utopian experiment and reality is something else. The author takes a hard look at the ideal of happiness and the reality of contentment. Sontag approaches her thesis with these words, "Every marriage, every community is a failed utopia…the ultimate utopia [is]…the desire for sexual union…the desire to breathe more deeply…but always together.” p. 175

Maryna, the majestic actress
Dora Okeyo
Mar 07, 2015 Dora Okeyo rated it liked it
For once, I would say that I am torn between highly praising a character and criticizing her life, but even so, my judgement has clearly been passed because I am nothing less of an actor, but more of a wanderer.

This is a story that follows Maryna, a famous actress, who leaves her country Poland, at the height of her career and relocates to America with her family with the hope of starting a new life. She is married to Bogdan, a husband who does as she wishes, and there's also Ryszard, an aspirin
Jul 13, 2016 Sarah rated it it was ok
Well, that was a whole lot of words. About 400 pages where pretty much nothing of interest happened, internally or externally to any of the characters. Was this a story about a marriage? Not really. Story about an immigrant family? No, not quite. Story about America in 1876? No, not exactly. It just seemed like a ramble. The first chapter is Sontag imagining herself being a fly on the wall at a party given by this family/friend group. They are based on real people, though she changes their names ...more
An interesting idea for an American author. The Polish background is sketched in rather than full delineated. The descriptions of life in California are closer to the authors experience and therefore much more detailed and consequently richer. The main character Maryna is oddly enigmatic, despite the stream of consciousness monologue in parts. Altogether an interesting novel, thought lacking the coherence of Sontag's other novels.
Oct 14, 2016 Ricki rated it liked it
Well it was interesting and I'm glad I didn't give up at one of several places was an odd book, neither here nor there. Full of interesting bits of historical information but the bits could almost have been better as loosely linked short stories and then some of the info was too shallow and some too detailed. And the last few pages about her interaction with Edwin Booth and his, nearly soliloquy about his life, acting, brother etc. - am not sure what the purpose of that was. But then ma ...more
Elke Koepping
Aug 07, 2016 Elke Koepping rated it it was amazing
Absolutely brilliant. After just finishing I could start all over again. So many different layers of perspectives and meanings. Adorable portrait of a brilliant uncompromising actress. Wonderful prose. This book jumped to No. 1 of my all time favorites immediately.
Julie Mickens
2-and-a-half stars. An interesting peek into show biz and bohemian history, with a few surprisingly appealing moments of passion. However, the overall effect was too staid and controlled to catch hold emotionally. It never picked up a pleasurable momentum, and it mostly lacked that uncanny feeling that makes good fiction. I did find the protagonist's dilemma -- a not-uncommon one for the not-quite-middle-aged woman -- sympathetic. I love Sontag as a critic but am less compelled by her work as a ...more
Natalie Crane
Jan 12, 2014 Natalie Crane rated it did not like it
This might have been a worthwhile read if the book was primarily concerned with actual storytelling than an exploration of themes and ideas. Much was discussed (and none of it particularly insightfully) by the narrator, and what served as artificial dialogue between characters, on acting, writing, the arts, immigration/migration, Polishness, Americaness, and Jewishness. What then is lacking is a story where character and plot are central, and the themes are background and implicit. The story gli ...more
Dec 13, 2015 Christine rated it really liked it
This expose of a charming narcissist was quite a loaded read. A famous aging Polish actress flees to CA with her loved ones in the 1870's, and tries her hand at running a vineyard. Disaster ensues (actors should drink the wine, not grow the grapes), and our actress returns to the stage in America to recover her husband's lost fortune. As she rises to fame again in a new land at the ripe old age of 36, we bear witness to her stale marriage, a string of suitors, an overzealous stage manager, and l ...more
Leigh Lyndon
Jan 04, 2009 Leigh Lyndon rated it really liked it
sontag was so clearly present throughout - she wrote herself into the structure. i loved that she was there.
Scott Cox
"In America" is probably Susan Sontag's last major work of fiction written prior to her death in 2004. The novel describes a Polish actress & her entourage's immigration to Southern California, and her hopes for founding a Utopian community. This story is based on the historic figure, Polish actress Helena Modrzejewska. However, in my opinion, the most interesting part of the book is the seemingly autobiographical first chapter wherein Sontag attempts to "find herself" (expose herself?) amon ...more
Tammy Matthews
Jul 01, 2016 Tammy Matthews rated it liked it
I get the feeling that Sontag's editor was too intimidated by her to demand the changes necessary to make this a stronger book. Chapter zero is her I guess imaging herself into a scene with the Polish actress who Maryna is based off. Chapter one is a bunch of actorly tripe. I was ready to give up on the book, with its posturing and lack of a point. But chapter two the Polish actress decides to go to the rural Polish mountains and suddenly things get interesting! Once these characters were taken ...more
Mantis Matsuri
There is no easy to go about this business.
I am, and have been for some time, infatuated with Susan Sontag. She was an eloquent person with a true passion for life and no fear of new ventures and the success or failure they may bring about. She had a warm and commanding voice and managed always to be beautiful. Her essays have spoken to me on many levels, those of profound acknowledgment and identification and that of agitated disagreement, but I can't be indifferent.
In America is the first of
Jessica Bicking
All I ever read by Susan Sontag's just baffles me.
She has such clarity to her writing; not only in style, but in perception, I imagine. I want to spend breakfast, coffee, lunch, a long-walk, dinner and late-night drinks with Sontag just listening to her talk.
In this spirit, above all In America has been a playground of impeccable writing to me. Sontag tries on different formats, different perspectives; it's a play with the medium. While one chapter introduces all characters via the approximativ
Sontag writes with vivid word visuals, and I felt as if I was right there in the midst of life during the late nineteenth century. In America is a long book, and isn’t a fast read, but fro me it was a satisfying novel. Sontag’s comprehension and mastery of details and history, even the most minute of them, is masterful.

The historical content within the pages of In America is valuable. Sontag not only gives the reader insight into the dynamics of political unrest in Poland, but also of American
Jaclyn Michelle
Nov 29, 2012 Jaclyn Michelle rated it it was amazing

"Each of us carries a room within ourselves, waiting to be furnished and peopled, and if you listen closely, you may need to silence everything in your own room, you can hear the sounds of that other room inside your head." (page 27)

In America is such an expansive piece of fiction, in which Sontag takes on everything from immigration to life in the theatre (with the "re"), and from the nature of love to what it means to be American. And she takes it on wit
Jan 09, 2011 Peggy rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: persistent, sophisticated readers into historical narrative & theatre & old world culture
I don't think this book would be everyone's cup of tea; it's long, dense and difficult to read in that Sontag's language is intricate and intellectually sophisticated, at least by my standards. I am very proud of myself for getting through it, and yes, I liked it! Part of the draw is that it is a very interesting story about a real and fascinating woman character in history; I love that sort of stuff! Also, I wanted SO badly to be able to say I had read a Susan Sontag, whose prose is not for the ...more
Sep 20, 2011 Amanda rated it liked it
I can't tell how I feel about this book - I liked the way it was written more than the content. I dogeared a lot of my favorite passages:

(On being caught in an earthquake):
"I like the feeling of being reduced to my own resources. Of having to do nothing but cope." (17)

(On the decision to go to America):
" ' I think I will die very soon, if I don't do something reckless...grand. I thought I was dying last year, you know.'
'But you didn't.'
'Must one die to prove one's sincerity!' " (39)

" 'When I w
Harry Maier
Jan 24, 2013 Harry Maier rated it really liked it
I have read much Sontag's academic work for my research; this is the first time I've read her fiction. In America is a Pulitzer Prize winning account of a series of Polish aristocrats and family members who emigrate to California in the late 19th century to carry out an experiment in communal living. The result is a novelistic study of "democracy in America" (de Toqueville) to which Sontag refers often (usually ironically), albeit slightly under the radar. What happens when a bohemian desire for ...more
Mar 09, 2007 Amy rated it really liked it
I don't think anyone else has read this book, but I recommend that you do. Susan Sontag (who has my birthday) is known for her social commentary-type writing. This is a novel, a work of fiction and very enjoyable. I got it at the Fresh Meadows library book sale for $2. It's about a Polish actress who comes to America with her husband, young son, admirers, and entourage, to live on a farm in California. Just for the hell of it, basically. She is well respected and renound in Poland, but she is fu ...more
Jan 27, 2008 Michelle rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people who are fond of the american west, yo!
In the 19th century, a Polish actress so brilliant and popular that she is an ersatz national hero, has a mid-career crisis.

?! I was expecting a book about America. Instead I let myself slide into Sontag's introduction in a glittery Krakow dinner party, a dreamy straddle before the story is fully formed. Quickly rewarded -- drawn into this world and this mind of the small band of Polish bourgeois who decide to move to the frontier town of Anaheim to try their hand at communal farming in the mod
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Bella. Grande. Como América. 1 5 Mar 17, 2007 01:35PM  
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Jewish American literary critic, theorist, novelist, and filmmaker.
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“Each of us carries a room within ourselves, waiting to be furnished and peopled, and if you listen closely, you may need to silence everything in your own room, you can hear the sounds of that other room inside your head.” 23 likes
“But the past is the biggest country of all, and there's a reason one gives in to the desire to set stories in the past: almost everything good seems located in the past, 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, sometimes I feel simply ashamed of the time in which I live.” 2 likes
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