Sunday, September 25, 2011

Everyone wonders why you are going

I love Susan Sontag. I love Susan Sontag the essayist. I love Susan Sontag the public intellectual. I love Susan Sontag the serial monogamist. The woman wasted no time.

Sontag thought of herself primarily as a novelist so it makes me sad to say that I didn't like In America (our August-September Migrant Bookclub read) except for one long passage that I absolutely loved.

In the late 1800s, a famous Polish actress and her posse are getting ready to immigrate to the United States:
EVERYONE WONDERS why we are going, Maryna said to herself. Let them wonder. Let them invent. Don't they always tell lies about me? I can lie, too. I don't owe anyone an explanation.

But the others need reasons, or so they tell themselves:

"Because she is my wife, and I must take care of her. Because I can show my brother that I'm a practical man, a virile son of the land, not just a lover of theatre and the editor of a patriotic newspaper that was quickly shut down by the authorities. Because I can't bear always being followed by the police."

"Because I am curious, that's my profession, it's what a journalist should be, because I want to travel, because I am in love with her, because I am young, because I love this country, because I need to escape this country, because I love to hunt, because Nina says she is pregnant and expects me to marry her, because I've read so many books about it, Fenimore Cooper and Mayne Reid and the rest, because I intend to write a great many books, because..."

"Because she's my mother and she promised me she would take me to the Centennial Exposition, whatever that is."

"Because 1, a simple girl, am to be her maid. Because, out of the other candidates at the orphanage, all prettier and more skilled at cooking and sewing, she chose me."

"Because that's where the future is being born."

"Because my husband wants to go."

"Because maybe I can't be just Polish, even there, but I won't be only a Jew."

"Because I want to live in a free country."

"Because life there will be better for the children."

"Because it's an adventure."

"Because people should live in harmony, as Fourier says, thought-- it must be very uplifting from all that I've heard-- I confess that each time I try to read his article on work as the key to human happiness my eyes start to--"

"Then forget about Fourier! Shakespeare," Maryna said. "Think of Shakespeare."

"But there's everything in Shakespeare."

"Exactly. As in America. America is meant to mean everything."

Did you read it? Did you like it? Am I a bookclub of one?


Photo via kostyasticky

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