Reborn: Journals & Notebooks 1947–1963

Susan Sontag, Author, David Rieff, Editor , edited by David Rieff. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $24 (318p) ISBN 978-0-374-10074-2

The first of three planned volumes of Sontag’s private journals, this book is extraordinary for all the reasons we would expect from Sontag’s writing—extreme seriousness, stunning authority, intolerance toward mediocrity; Sontag’s vulnerability throughout will also utterly surprise the late critic and novelist’s fans and detractors. At 15, when these journals began, Sontag (1933–2004) already displayed her ferocious intellect and hunger for experience and culture, though what is most remarkable here is watching Sontag grow into one of the century’s leading minds. In these carefully selected excerpts (many passages are only a few lines), Sontag details her developing thoughts, her voluminous reading and daily movie-going, her life as a teenage college student at Berkeley discovering her sexuality (“bisexuality as the expression of fullness of an individual”), and meeting and marrying her professor Philip Rieff, with whom, at the age of 18, she had David, her only child. Most powerful are the entries corresponding to her years in England and Europe, when, apart from Philip and their son, the marriage broke down and Sontag entered intense lesbian relationships that would compel her to rethink her notions of sex, love (“physical beauty is enormously, almost morbidly, important to me”) and daughter- and motherhood, and all before the age of 30. Watching Sontag become herself is nothing short of cathartic. (Dec.)

Reviewed on: 10/27/2008
Release date: 12/01/2008
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