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In America

3.29  ·  Rating details ·  1,533 Ratings  ·  155 Reviews
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 ...more
Published September 1st 2000 by Farrar Straus Giroux (first published 1999)
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May 12, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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 04, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 09, 2013 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
Jul 05, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Joslyn Allen
Review published: https://chronicbibliophilia.wordpress...

“In Poland, you were allowed some practice of the arts of self-indulgence, but you were expected to be sincere and also to have high ideals – people respected you for that. In America, you were expected to exhibit the confusions of inner vehemence, to express opinions no one need take seriously, and have eccentric foibles and extravagant needs, which exhibited the force of your will, your appetitiveness, the spread of your self-regard – a
Nov 10, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Chris Holder
Feb 24, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2017
I came for the reputation, stayed for the form and history, stayed til the end for the attention to detail and plot & character development, and was glad to leave when the experiment had run its course.

I am charmed by the peculiar metafiction in this book, but I think it works against itself. Chapter Zero conjures a fictional dinner party that the invisible narrator haunts, observing Polish intellectuals who are based on real historical figures. The titular character, Maryna Zalezowska, deri
Feb 18, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
تصور می کنم سوزان سونتاگ تحت تاثیر عنوانی که به او دادند، رابط میان فرهنگ اروپایی و فرهنگ آمریکایی، این رمان را نوشته باشد. شخصیت زن لهستانی رمان دوست داشتنی ست اما برخی از عکس العمل ها و رفتارهایش فرمایشی بنظر می رسند. حس می کنی نویسنده خواسته این زن چنین رفتار یا عملی داشته باشد،...

اگرچه سوزان سونتاگ در ایران بیشتر به یک منتقد ادبی و اجتماعی نویس معروف است، و در این زمینه ها کارهای بزرگی تالیف کرده، اما رمان های سونتاگ کارهای زیبایی ست که ندیده یا نشنیده ام به فارسی ترجمه شده باشد. روشن نیست
Jan 09, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Andrea Fortwendel
Apr 13, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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.
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.
Elke Koepping
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.
Leigh Lyndon
Jan 04, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
sontag was so clearly present throughout - she wrote herself into the structure. i loved that she was there.
Jerry Pogan
A curious book. The writing was good as far as sentence structure and phrasing go and Susan Sontag was obviously very intelligent but it has to be one of the worst books I've ever read. It started out well and I thought this was going to be a good read but it soon started wearing thin and became a drag. The writing droned on in at a very monotonous pace with no variation or emotion. The story is basically about a Polish actress who emigrates to America in the late 1800's and her experiences as s ...more
Needlessly inscrutable. I like Susan Sontag's nonfiction, but this was a drag.
Kathryn Allen
Some quotes that reflect on American culture:
"The public expects to be entertained, not elevated, and is most entertained by the grandiose and the bizarre."
"What is paramount in America is the personal calendar, the personal journey. My birthday, my life, my happiness."
"Not so long ago nostalgia was regarded as a serious, sometimes fatal, illness. The case histories he's read have all appeared in French medical journals, but it seems unlikely that only the French were capable of dying of their a
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
Jun 22, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The opening chapter is spectacular. It invades the mind of writer, narrator, and the numerous planes of language. Like a true adventurer, nearly thoughtless in regards to their own well-being and success, Sontag forges the deltas and tributataries of language, ebbing and flowing from narration to an explicit addressing of her own writing style and narrative intention. This potent and daring first chapter also convinced me not to dedicate any more time to the novel since the potential story did n ...more
Jaclyn Michelle
Aug 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

"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
Fue una curiosa combinación con American Gods (que leí después), porque ambos libros abordan a su modo el mismo tema: lo extraño que resulta para un extranjero conocer/buscar la "esencia americana". No puedo hablar de veracidad, porque sólo he estado de visita en EUA, pero me encantó encontrar similitudes. En especial, mi favorita fue Anaheim. En 'American gods' sólo aparece mencionada, pero en 'En América' nos hablan de sus comienzos. Es bonito tener relatos complementarios, aunque no tengan na ...more
Harry Maier
Jan 24, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Nov 13, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars. This is a difficult book for me to judge - well, actually, it was a difficult book for me, period. No doubt I'd have appreciated it more if I were more interested in theater. While I was reading it, I found myself alternating between being very intrigued, then simply puzzled, and also a little bored. Her writing style is difficult, her sentences slippery, and the character development scenes shockingly short - but then there were words and ideas that came through all that, rather diml ...more
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Jewish American literary critic, theorist, novelist, and filmmaker.
More about Susan Sontag...
“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.” 27 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.” 3 likes
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