Reviews

Library Journal
(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

A great Polish actress looks for utopia in the American West. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Library Journal
(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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.


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

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
(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

In 1876, 35-year-old Maryna Zalewska, Poland's brilliant, revered actress, packs up her 14-person entourage, including husband, child, maid, and assorted relatives and admirers, and emigrates to Anaheim, CA, determined to shed her glittering life and disappear into the unglamorous anonymity borne of the radical, hard-scrabble work of her commune. After a couple of years, with the failure of the farm looming, Maryna returns to the stage in a dazzling U.S. comeback that rockets her to renewed fame, fortune, and smashing success across the nation and overseas. Basing her new novel on the life of Helena Modrzejewska (stage name Helena Modjeska), Sontag uses dense, elegant language, inventive dialog, impassioned monolog, and diary entries to lure the reader more deeply into the fascinating historical journey of a powerful actress charging her high-energy way through the lives of her inner circle, leaving in her wake broken hearts, inspiration, and a sad inner core that may be forever masked by her inability to separate her actress side from her human one. Sontag triumphs once again with her gift for turning history into riveting fiction (Volcano Lover). Encourage readers to get beyond the annoyingly contrived first chapter with its invisible observer. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/99.]--Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

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