In 1876 a group of Poles led by Maryna Zalenska, Poland's greatest actress, emigrate to the United States and travel to California to found a 'utopian' commune outside the village of Anaheim. Maryna, who has renounced her career for this venture, is accompanied by her small son and her husband, an aristocrat in revolt against his family ; in her entourage is a rising young writer who is in love with her. Sontag's gripping narrative shows us an exotic,
still largely empty, up-for-grabs southern California, with European newcomers lording it over native Californians and Native Americans. When the commune fails and most of the émigrés return to
Poland, Maryna stays, learns English, and - as Marina Zalenska - forges a new, even more triumphant career on the american stage. A diva on a par with Sarah Bernhardt, Maryna soon forms her own company and crisscrosses the country in her private railroad car, year after year, eventually playing opposite Edwin Booth, the great American actor of the age.