LITERATURE

Sontag: Her Life and Work

Ecco: HarperCollins. Sept. 2019. 832p. photos. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780062896391. $45; ebk. ISBN 9780062896414. BIOG
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For this exceptional biography, critic Moser (Why This World) gains rare access to the closed archives of Susan Sontag (1933–2004), conducting interviews with those who knew her best, including son David Rieff and partner Annie Leibovitz. Moser synthesizes historical events with moments in Sontag’s life while comprehensively analyzing her major works. After a difficult childhood with an inattentive mother, Sontag quickly rose to prominence as an essayist (On Photography), novelist (In America), filmmaker (Promised Lands), and “authoritative blurber” who could bring authors and artists fame by expressing admiration for their work. Sontag bravely battled cancer three times and openly supported Salman Rushdie (after Ayatollah Khomeini issued the fatwa against the author) while others stayed silent. She also criticized postmodernism despite its mass acceptance in academia. Moser skillfully describes how Sontag often struggled with basic everyday responsibilities, showing compassion and support for war victims (visiting Bosnia and North Vietnam) yet treating those closest to her cruelly, always considering herself an outsider.
VERDICT This excellent portrait of a complicated, brilliant individual will appeal to those interested in late 20th-century culture, LGBTQ studies, and literary scholarship.

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