Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Once upon a Time, 'In America' A Woman's Search for Self in 1870s

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Once upon a Time, 'In America' A Woman's Search for Self in 1870s

Article excerpt

Title: In America Author: Susan Sontag Data: Farrar, Strau and Giroux, 387 pages, $26

Review by Judy Elliott

Maryna Zalezowska, Poland's beloved stage actress, is in a rut.

Even in the 1870s, fame is not enough to stir the blood and make every day a new adventure.

Maryna is "burned out." She's acted every good part and taken enough bows.

She longs for a fresh start, a new place to fill her senses with the sights and sounds she's never experienced. Of course, she can't take off on her own. There's her husband to consider, a Polish aristocrat, and her small son.

But Maryna is convincing, and by 1876, she and her family and an entourage, including a brooding young writer who is in love with her, sail for America. They buy land out West and set out to make a new life. It is a daring move. The band of friends, led by their lovely muse, are persuaded they can grow grapes in Southern California.

They settle near the village of Anaheim where European newcomers are lording it over native Californians and native Americans in a country that is largely up for grabs.

They are a naive group, but amazingly adaptable. Living together as a 19th century commune, they learn to fend for themselves, cook over a fire, explore their surroundings and shed the formality of their European lives.

But they are not experienced in the ways of a vineyard, and their farming venture fails. Most of the faithful band return to Poland. The aristocratic husband stays on to sell the California land and the actress, Maryna Zalezowska, goes alone to San Francisco to work on her limited English, hoping to present herself to the public once again, but this time as Marina Zalenska, the Polish countess, reborn for the American stage.

And she is successful, eventually leaving California to perform in New York City and travel by private railroad car across the country, giving performances as Camille and in As You Like It and The Winter's Tale, and finally playing alongside Edwin Booth, the foremost American actor of the day. …

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