Books: A Travelogue in Time

Susan Sontag's In America follows a 19th century Polish actress into brave-new-world adventures

In the 1870s, Poland's most beloved actress, Maryna Zalezowska, abandons the stage and sets off, with a small entourage of admirers in tow, to found a vaguely utopian community in Southern California. No one understands why the acclaimed diva has decided on this strange mission, and she chooses not to enlighten them: "I don't owe anyone an explanation." The experiment, set up on 47 acres near the village of Anaheim, soon convinces the 14 emigres involved that successful farming and the contemplative life are incompatible. Leaving her husband behind to settle the debts, Zalezowska goes to San Francisco, polishes up her...

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