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I Amerika : roman (2000)

av Susan Sontag

MedlemmarRecensionerPopularitetGenomsnittligt betygOmnämnanden
1,106812,949 (3.38)18
In 1876 a group of Poles led by Maryna Zalewska, Poland's greatest actress, travels to California to found a 'utopian' commune. The commune fails, however, and most of the group go home, but Maryna stays and triumphs on the American stage.

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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 unnamed narrator looks out on the wintry landscape from her vantage point in a warm corner of a large room filled with people. Slowly the narrator, who is Sontag herself embedded in this prelude to the novel, gradually introduces the main characters who are gathered at a private party. These characters include an actress, Maryna the greatest leading lady in Poland; her husband, Bogdan; and a budding writer, Ryszard, who will eventually become her lover.
Language is an important aspect of the novel as the narrator meditates on all the words in the air swirling around her at this party. Her meditation leads he to comment that "I mean here only to give these words their proper, poignant emphasis. And it occurred to me that this might explain, partly, my presence in this room. For I was moved by the way they possessed these words and regarded themselves bound by them to actions. . . . I was enjoying the repetition. Dare I say I felt at one with them? Almost. Those dreaded words, dreaded by others (not by me), seemed like caresses. Pleasantly numbed, I felt myself borne along by their music . . ." (p 8) While musing on the Polish diva who holds the company spellbound, Sontag notes: "I remember when I first read Middlemarch: I had just turned 18, and a third of the way through the book burst into tears because I realised not only that I was Dorothea but that a few months earlier, I had married Mr Casaubon... It took me nine years to decide that I had the right, the moral right, to divorce Mr Casaubon." (p 24) She indulges herself and suggests that this will be the story of a Dorothea who does not, like George Eliot's heroine, bury herself in the obscurity of "private" good works. She will shine in the public blaze of celebrity.
The party is in Poland, but some converse in French as well. This is their home where they are known and comfortable--yet there is more--ideas are in the air. The narrator hears bits of conversation that hint at plans Maryna has to leave Poland. These words suggest the possibility of a project to create a "perfect" society, one influenced by both Voltaire and Rousseau. After further ruminations on these people surrounding her at the party the narrator decides to write their story: "I decided to follow them out into the world." (p 27)
After this unusual introduction the actual story, an historical one, continues for nine more chapters chronicling the journey of Maryna, her close friends, family, and entourage, to America. They fairly quickly settle in a dusty southern California village established originally by Germans, namely Anaheim. Just as earlier communities like Brook Farm in New England and others have failed theirs does as well. The experiment is unsuccessful due to unexpected difficulties as they find the empty and dry expanse of California is not conducive to their plans. While many of them return to Poland it is at this moment that Maryna, longing for a return to the stage, decides to move to San Francisco and mount an American career where she can once again become a leading lady, perhaps a legend. This is, after all, an historical novel and the main characters are based on real people. Maryna is based on Helena Modrzejewska, who at 35 years old was Poland's greatest actress and who emigrated to America. The story abounds with moments when Maryna is in the theater playing Camille or Juliet for adoring audiences. Gradually her stage character takes hold of the reader much as it must have for those audiences. Following her came her husband and her lover, based on the writer Henryk Sinkiewicz (later famous as the author of Quo Vadis, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature). However, not all the real names are changed and , not unlike some other historical novels, famous names drop in from time to time including Edwin Booth and Henry James (later in the story as Maryna has moved on to conquer the London stage; her success there was limited but better by far than that of James whose plays bombed).

This is a novel that, according to the author, was inspired by her own family background as all four of her grandparents came from Poland. She herself, in the three years of the novel's conception, frequently visited "besieged Sarajevo" (the novel is dedicated to her friends in that unhappy city). The main character has luminescent moments, but I found the story as a whole uneven. Ryszard and Bogdan both have moments "on stage" but the rest of the characters fade into the background. They all were on stage as followers of Maryna to America and it is a book worth reading to share the experiences of her dramatic and eventful life. ( )
  jwhenderson | Mar 2, 2014 |

"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 with an eloquence most can only aspire to. The novel follows Polish actress Maryna Zalezowska, legend of the stage, as she and her close circle of friends leave Poland and immigrate to America to live the simple commune life. Each chapter varies stylistically, which really showcases Sontag's versatility, and brings new life to many a well-explored theme.

I'm sure I have nothing super original to contribute to a discussion of Sontag's work, and given that I've only (yet) read 1 1/2 of her novels (I started The Volcano Lover years ago but for some reason never finished), I did some research post-reading. I highly recommend listening to this podcast over from CBC Radio's Writers and Company from October of 2000. First of all, I had no idea Sontag had such a low, resonant voice. Second of all, she is just such a damned eloquent speaker and so fascinating to listen to.

The only part of the book that, initially, didn't really work for me was the last chapter, where Sontag has Edwin Booth go on an alcoholic tirade about life and truth and acting...it just seemed such a sad and almost oppressive way to end the book. But then, during said podcast, Sontag spoke about what was going on in her life when she wrote the last chapter: she said she writes chronologically and was about 30-40 pages from the end of the novel when she received another cancer diagnosis. Now, with that small glimpse into her frame of mind, I can understand where that might have come from and how wrong I was initially.

Rubric rating: Duh. 9. I really want to read her nonfiction work on photography. ( )
  jaclyn_michelle | Oct 1, 2012 |
La más célebre de las actrices polacas, Maryna Zalezowska, decide partir hacia América junto con su marido, su hijo, un joven escritor que la idolatra y varios amigos, impulsados por la idea de construir una comunidad utópica. Maryna, quien ha renunciado a su carrera por esta aventura, descubrirá que la felicidad americana se construye de un modo distinto al esperado. La apasionante narrativa de Sontag nos muestra una exótica baja California, aún demasiado vacía y disponible para los colonos europeos, que recalan como señores de los nativos californianos y americanos. Al leerla conocerás otra forma de colonización diferente a la que nos presentan las películas del género.
  bibliest | Dec 22, 2011 |
In 1876 a group of Poles led by Maryna Zalezowska, Poland's greatest actress, emigrate to the United States and travel to California to found a "utopian commune." When the commune fails, Maryna stays, learns English, and—as Marina Zalenska—forges a new, even more triumphant career on the American stage, becoming a diva on par with Sara Bernhardt. In America is about many things: a woman's search for self-transformation; the fate of idealism; a life in the theater; the many varieties of love; and, not least of all, stories and storytelling itself.
  louisville | Dec 9, 2010 |
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. She not only gives the reader insight into the dynamics of political unrest in Poland, but also of American assimilation and identity. Sontag explores life in general during a time when great waves of diverse immigrants were vying for a foothold in order to begin life anew in America. The immigrant had to be strong and determined, no matter the situation thrown at them. They had to have an eye for the moment and take advantage of situations dealt them. In other words, they had to be a good actor. ( )
  LorriMilli | Dec 28, 2009 |
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In America is more than just another coming-of-age story; it is a critique of celebrity and a celebration of Sontag's ability to move seamlessly between essays, criticism, and fiction.
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Es ist gut, glücklich zu sein, aber es ist vulgär, glücklich sein zu 'wollen'. Und 'ist' man glücklich, ist es vulgär, es zu wissen. (Seite 64)
>>Muß man denn sterben, um seine Aufrichtigkeit zu beweisen!<< (Seite 52)
Gesundheit ist eine Verheißung von mehr Zukunft. Besitz dagegen verstärkt die Bindungen zur Vergangenheit. (Seite 228)
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In 1876 a group of Poles led by Maryna Zalewska, Poland's greatest actress, travels to California to found a 'utopian' commune. The commune fails, however, and most of the group go home, but Maryna stays and triumphs on the American stage.

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