Synopses & Reviews
Sigrid Nunez was an aspiring writer when she first me Susan Sontag, already a legendary figure known for her polemical essays, blinding intelligence, and edgy personal style. Sontag introduced Nunez to her son, the writer David Rieff, and the two began dating. Soon Nunez moved into the apartment that Rieff and Sontag shared. As Sontag told Nunez, "Who says we have to live like everyone else?"
Sontag's influence on Nunez, who went on to become a successful novelist, would be profound. Described by Nunez as "a natural mentor," who saw educating others as both a moral obligation and a source of endless pleasure, Sontag inevitably infected those around her with her many cultural and intellectual passions. In this poignant, intimate memoir, Nunez speaks of her gratitude for having had, as an early model, "someone who held such an exalted, unironic view of the writer's vocation." For Sontag, she writes, "there could be no nobler pursuit, no greater adventure, no more rewarding quest." Nunez gives a sharp sense of the charged, polarizing atmosphere that enveloped Sontag whenever she published a book, gave a lecture, or simply walked into a room. Published more than six years after Sontag's death, Sempre Susan is a startlingly truthful portrait of this outsized personality, who made being an intellectual a glamorous occupation.
"The iconoclasm of the fearless intellectual Susan Sontag, who died in 2004 of leukemia, began to be revealed with her son David Rieff's memoir, Swimming in a Sea of Death, and continues with novelist Nunez's (Salvation City) thorny remembrance of the woman who was her literary mentor as well as her boyfriend's mother. Sontag was 43, Nunez 25, when the young editorial assistant at the New York Review of Books was hired by the famous writer to help her sort her correspondence at her Riverside Drive apartment in 1976. As a fledgling writer, between college and grad school, Nunez was in awe of Sontag's reputation, her mighty pronouncements, unconventional flair for life, and her critical reading and movie lists; the young writer promptly read her books (knowing Sontag would ask her if she had: 'She didn't have a beautiful style,' Nunez concludes). Soon Nunez was introduced to Sontag's son, David Rieff, who was a year younger and a student; they began a romance, sanctioned by Sontag, and Nunez moved into the apartment with them, in an increasingly problematic arrangement. What emerges from this conflicted portrait is a vulnerable woman recovering from illness who could not be alone; Sontag was supercilious, insecure, yet vulnerable to beauty and love, fiercely uncompromising, and surely, as Nunez intimates by the end, the finest teacher a young writer could ever have had. (Apr.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
"Two things you will not find in Sempre Susan
, Sigrid Nunez's slim, elegant memoir of Susan Sontag in the 1970s:
– a predictable rehashing of the notorious writer's political gaffes and personal foibles -- her apparent insensitivity to the American victims of 9/11 and her refusal to talk openly about her sexual identity (she was gay) being two of the best-known, and
– dish about Nunez's two-year affair with Sontag's son, David Rieff, the book's ostensible raison d'etre."
Rachel Shteir, Tablet
(Read the entire Tablet review
A biographical portrait by the novelist who lived with Sontag's son for several years in the seventies and knew her well in her last years.
Sigrid Nunez was a young writer new to the New York literary world when she met Susan Sontag, already a legendary figure known for her polemical essays, her blindingly bright intelligence, and her edgy personal style. A magnetic presence, intimidating and blunt, Sontag established herself as the main interpreter of the avant-garde with Against Interpretation-the book, claims Nunez, that made her want to become a writer. Through her relationship with Sontag's son, the writer David Rieff, Nunez acquired an intimate sense of her subject. Her memoir, at once piercing and deeply empathic, gives a sharp sense of the charged, polarizing atmosphere that enveloped Sontag whenever she published a book, gave a lecture, or simply walked into a room. Published six years after the author's death, Sempre Susan is a startlingly truthful portrait of this outsized personality, who, through sheer force of will, made being an intellectual a glamorous occupation.
About the Author
Sigrid Nunez is the author of five novels. She has won two awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Rome Prize in Literature. She lives in New York City.