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1. Saul Bellow: Letters
2. The Adventures of Augie March
3. Collected Stories
4. Saul Bellow: Novels 1956-1964:
5. Herzog (Penguin Classics)
6. To Jerusalem and Back (Classic,
7. Humboldt's Gift (Penguin Classics)
8. Henderson the Rain King
9. Seize the Day (Penguin Classics)
10. Ravelstein (Penguin Great Books
11. It All Adds Up: From the Dim Past
12. Mr. Sammler's Planet (Penguin
13. Saul Bellow: Novels 1944-1953:
14. Henderson the Rain King
15. Seize the Day
16. The Victim (Classic, 20th-Century,
17. Saul Bellow's Fiction (Crosscurrents/Modern
18. A Sort of Columbus: The American
19. On Bellow's Planet: Readings from
20. Dangling Man (Penguin Classics)

1. Saul Bellow: Letters
by Saul Bellow
Hardcover: 608 Pages (2010-11-04)
list price: US$35.00 -- used & new: US$23.10
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0670022217
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Editorial Review

Product Description
A never-before-published collection of letters-an intimate self- portrait as well as the portrait of a century.

Saul Bellow was a dedicated correspondent until a couple of years before his death, and his letters, spanning eight decades, show us a twentieth-century life in all its richness and complexity. Friends, lovers, wives, colleagues, and fans all cross these pages. Some of the finest letters are to Bellow's fellow writers-William Faulkner, John Cheever, Philip Roth, Martin Amis, Ralph Ellison, Cynthia Ozick, and Wright Morris. Intimate, ironical, richly observant, and funny, these letters reveal the influcences at work in the man, and illuminate his enduring legacy-the novels that earned him a Nobel Prize and the admiration of the world over. Saul Bellow: Letters is a major literary event and an important edition to Bellow's incomparable body of work. ... Read more

2. The Adventures of Augie March (Penguin Classics)
by Saul Bellow
Paperback: 608 Pages (2006-10-03)
list price: US$16.00 -- used & new: US$9.25
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0143039571
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description
As soon as it first appeared in 1953, this gem by the great Saul Bellow was hailed as an American classic. Bold, expansive, and keenly humorous, The Adventures of Augie March blends street language with literary elegance to tell the story of a poor Chicago boy growing up during the Great Depression. A "born recruit," Augie makes himself available for hire by plungers, schemers, risk takers, and operators, compiling a record of choices that is—to say the least—eccentric. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (67)

5-0 out of 5 stars Saul Bellow nearly out-Whitman's Walt Whitman
For most of this novel - supposedly, the first of Saul Bellow's great novels (it won him the National Book Award in 1954) - the title for this review that kept suggesting itself to me was "The Prince of Prolixity".Because Bellow, through his first-person narrator Augie March, just goes on and on, and on and on.The page cannot contain the prose -- it overflows and spills onto the reader's lap, then the floor, and under the door -- and the novel seems endless.

The novel consists of Augie March's life story, his "campaign after a worth-while fate".The picaresque story begins in Chicago and most of it takes place in Chicago.Augie's father has disappeared, his mother is blind, his younger brother is retarded, and the family just manages to scrape by, with the occasional assistance of Welfare.When the Depression comes, matters get worse.Augie's older brother, Simon, devotes himself to Mammon.But Augie cannot bring himself to follow his brother's path.He has a seeming myriad of jobs - including delivering newspapers, working in a poolroom, gofer for a crippled businessman, selling shoes and then sporting goods and then rubberized paint, working for his brother in a coalyard, union organizer, kept companion for a wealthy woman, and purser in the merchant marine.By the end of the novel World War II is over and Augie is in Paris.But it is an open-ended story; Augie's "earthly pilgrimage" will continue to unfold.

In the first half of the novel, Augie seems preoccupied primarily with money; in the second half, with love.But, in actuality, what he really is wrestling with throughout is life, and his role in life --"whether I was all I might be".In conventional literary analysis, THE ADVENTURES OF AUGIE MARCH might be categorized as a "quest for identity".But I am reluctant to pigeonhole the novel, because it is so individuated -- perhaps a term with a double meaning, since, if I understand Jungian psychology properly (a BIG "if"), the novel could be said to chronicle the "individuation" of Augie March.

And, ultimately, what makes the novel special is its energy, its ebullience, its very prolixity.In telling Augie's story, Saul Bellow nearly out-Whitman's Walt Whitman in "Song of Myself".The novel sprawls, it rambles, it strews about classical and cultural and historical allusions like chickenfeed, it strains syntax, and it sandwiches profound thoughts and sparkling gems of prose amongst sentences that are baffling, or nonsensical, or maybe even silly.The writing often is exasperating, but, oddly, in the end I found it exhilarating.The reading experience was somewhat akin to what I remember about reading Melville's "Moby Dick" or Joyce's "Ulysses" (not to suggest that AUGIE MARCH is quite their equal).

Just one example of Bellow's style, a passage in which Augie describes how it was that he got hooked on reading, especially the reading of history:

"So suppose I wasn't created to read a great declaration, or to boss a palatinate, or send off a message to Avignon, and so on, I could SEE, so there nevertheless was a share for me in all that had happened.How much of a share?Why, I knew there were things that would never, because they could never, come of my reading.But this knowledge was not so different from the remote but ever-present death that sits in the corner of the loving bedroom; though it doesn't budge from the corner, you wouldn't stop your loving.Then neither would I stop my reading.I sat and read."

In its wordy way, that's a pretty good explanation for why I read.And, although it took me three months to make my way from beginning to end, I am glad that I finally got around to reading THE ADVENTURES OF AUGIE MARCH.

3-0 out of 5 stars An Alien Universe
I have tried to read three of Saul Bellow's novels now, and "Augie March" (which is also his most well-known) is my third (and probably final) failure to enter the universe that Saul Bellow has created and inhabited."Augie March" follows the adventures of a Jewish boy growing up in the Depression as he wanders from job to job, meeting one dubious character after the other, the wisdom and teachings of his grandmother always in his ear.The book is above all lyrical and rhythmic, and it's a fine example of the Jewish story-telling direction -- but it's also directionless and aloof.

4-0 out of 5 stars Is Bellow The Real Salinger?
This coming of age book, is for me, what I had hoped for when I read Catcher in the Rye. Some might think of the two writers as apples and oranges, but I couldn't help but to compare the two books as I read. Augie is a character that is made real by his creator. There is nothing at all contrived, self important or intentionally rebellious and yet Augie is a rebel of the highest order, one who is forced to face the real world and chooses his own path.

5-0 out of 5 stars Well deserving Great American Tale [81][T]
At this point in my life, I believethat American literature peaks when the topic is relatively simple: describe a rags to riches odyssey by a young person whose urban environment's school of hard knocks leads him or her to great fortune - monetary or otherwise.Among those great novels, I would have to include "The Adventures of Augie March."

The incredibly well written and thoroughly descriptive narrative covering the life of boy Augie to his expatriate life amid the city of lights, Bellow proves his achievement awards for his literature is both deserving and inevitable.

This book, centering upon Chicago, makes me think the author is like another Chicago-themed author of American literature: Theodore Dreiser.Augie is not much different than the great protagonist Carrie Meeber of Sister Carrie.Like Sister Carrie , this is a tome. Well over 250,000 words, this book can be a great read, but it will require some significant time by the bed stand.Both Carrie and Augie fall upon success.Neither seeks it, it falls upon them.And, each is very humble upon the receipt.And, those around them are envious and admiring.

The importance of education then, and even more true today, is outlined in one discourse. "You should go out and find what you can do, and then after four years if you aren't any good at any special thing, you at least have this degree. And it won't be any sonofabitch who can kick you around." Good advice. Then. And, today.

But, going to school would not make a great storyline.So, we follow Augie who washes dogs, aids a pool hall owner, helps his brother in the in-law's business, trains eagles in Mexico, works with intellectuals in writing books, and eventually works on deals in France..A war stint here, a time on the open sea there, and a few other diversions, not forgetting the women he wooed - as well as those who wooed him - make this an incredibly entertaining tale.And, we are truly glad that his wishes had not become true when he states, "Sometimes I wished I could become a shoemaker too."

Great writing mixed with a great tale make this a great novel.

5-0 out of 5 stars Found a favorite
I have definitely found a new favorite in Auggie March. Definitely a slow read, but the episodes of thought and emotion were definitely worth the work. Maybe I am biased though as the more and more I read this book the more I realized I had some things in common with Senor March, in thought and experience. It was rather odd, even one of the character names was right on to my experiences. Freaked me out a little. All in all I thought it was an amazing read, but I definitely would not recommend this book to everyone. ... Read more

3. Collected Stories
by Saul Bellow
Paperback: 464 Pages (2002-10-29)
list price: US$18.00 -- used & new: US$9.45
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0142001643
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description
Nobel Prize-winner Saul Bellow has deservedly been celebrated as one of America's greatest living writers. For more than sixty years he has stretched our minds, our imaginations, and our hearts with his exhilarating perceptions of life. Now collected for the first time in one volume and chosen by the author himself are favorites such as "What Kind of Day Did You Have?," "Leaving the Yellow House," and a previouslyuncollected piece, "By the St. Lawrence." With his larger-than-life characters, irony, wisdom, and unique humor, Bellow presents a sharp, rich, and funny world that is infinitely surprising. This is a volume to treasure for longtime Bellow fans, and an excellent introduction for new readers.Amazon.com Review
Saul Bellow's Collected Stories, handpicked by the author, display the depth of character and acumen of the Nobel laureate's narrative powers. While he has garnered acclaim as a novelist, Bellow's shorter works prove equally strong. Primarily set in a sepia-toned Chicago, characters (mostly men) deal with family issues, desires, memories, and failings--often arriving at humorous if not comic situations. In the process, these quirky and wholly real characters examine human nature.

The narrative is straightforward, with deftly handled shifts in time, and the prose is concise, sometimes pithy, with equal parts humor and grace. In "Looking for Mr. Green," Bellow describes a relief worker sized up by tenants: "They must have realized that he was not a college boy employed afternoons by a bill collector, trying foxily to pass for a relief clerk, recognized that he was an older man who knew himself what need was, who had more than an average seasoning in hardship. It was evident enough if you looked at the marks under his eyes and at the sides of his mouth." This collection should appeal both to those familiar with Bellow's work and to those seeking an introduction. --Michael Ferch ... Read more

Customer Reviews (9)

5-0 out of 5 stars Often wicked fun
Most of these stories are vintage Bellow continuing his themes, particularlydifficult relatives or just plain screwing up with family. Poignant and funny and plenty of what lies in between.

5-0 out of 5 stars Cultural Americana: Stories with Depth and Texture
Saul Bellow selected the stories in this anthology which span the era of the late 1940s to mid-1950s. It includes a broad range of people, places, and topics. Each story is a richly textured, deep memory file of detail, depth, and description making every sentence and paragraph a work of artistic merit. Saul Bellow shares his Chicago roots and delving further, his ancestral Russian Jewish heritage. Other settings for his stories are New York, New Jersey, and New England. He uses densely packed carefully chosen, correct words to paint a colorful reality with many shades and hues ... He can pinpoint the important life issues of his characters describing their personality and behavior to maximum effect. His use of time is highly effective, the main character could be an adult, whose memories of specific events and people which had an impact on his life are woven throughout a story. The memory could be an everyday occurence but it takes on meaning and value because as life unfolds and one ages ... the mind naturally connectsemotions with one's personal history.

This Nobel Prize for Literature winning author provides winding caverns of reality which the reader enters ... to explore the unforgettable life experiences of characters whose philosophical, ethical, and moral outlooks are described.

Here is a small sample of the above,
from "Cousins": "Disorder if it does not murder you brings certain opportunities. You wouldn't guess that when I sit in my Holy Sepulchre apartment at night (the surroundings that puzzled Eunice's mind when she came to visit: 'All these Oriental rugs and lamps, and so many books,' she said), wouldn't guess that I am concentrating on strategies for pouncing passionately on the freedom made possible by dissolution. Hundreds of books, but only half a shelf of those that matter. You don't get more goodness from more knowledge ..." [p. 234] In this story, Bellow discusses the relationship between love and hate with some startling but very accurate conclusions.

There is a kind of nostalgia and sentiment for the past in his stories where memories, places, and people are thoroughly examined and explored, few authors can match this writing style and achieve the same results. These memories about the past take on a kind of sacredness. Saul Bellow examines sentiments and feelings to create a dynamic story by unraveling the complex emotions associated with past relationships. Each thread in every story is woven neatly, tightly, and with consideration for all the senses, sight, sound, touch and taste. Indeed, all the stories are so enormously rich and dense, each is a book unto itself.
Erika Borsos (erikab93)

5-0 out of 5 stars 'The Old System'
There is one story in this collection 'The Old System' which is one of the best stories I have ever read. I love it in part because it captures the spirit and feeling of two worlds I know well, one is the upstate New York Troy- Albany area world, the other is the world of Jewish religious Yiddish speaking immigrants to America. But I think even more than this what I find in this story is a story of family love and hate, of passion and intensity in human relationships. The story is fundamentally of the relationship between a brother and sister who ostensibly become estranged over a family inheritance,a ring. The brother a master maneuver and real estate mogul has risen from poor origins to wealth, and a world and a level beyond that of his resentful sister. She cuts him off. But in a dramatic reconciliation scene at the close of the story there is an incredible depth of tenderness and resignation and wisdom.
My abstract words are a poor summary of this remarkable story. It carries such a weight of meaning in it, said and unsaid, that I cannot possibly describe it.
In my judgment it is a very great story, one of the greatest.

1-0 out of 5 stars Boring boredom from The Boremaster
Am I the only Earthling who hates Bellow more than life itself? Somehow I doubt it. Bellow's so profoundly shallow he makes Jacqueline Susann look like a paragon of psychological depth. Contrary to Martin Amis's claim, Saul happens to be a soulless wonder.

I discovered Bellow by way of Woody Allen (himself a master boremonger). Woody wrote a story called NO KADDISH FOR WEINSTEIN, which I later found out was a parody of Bellow. NO KADDISH was pure cartoon comedy, so I made the assumption that Bellow himself had actual depth & resonance. Boy was I wrong. Most of Bellow's stuff is as cartoonish as Woody's stuff. And it might bore you to know that both Saul & Woody are terminally addicted to the exact sort of self-congratulatory lit-chat name-dropping that infects Martin Amis's stuff.

The obvious question is why COLLECTED STORIES contains an introduction by James Wood instead of one by Amis. And I think I know the answer: pure laziness on Amis's part. Amis probably didn't have enough time to make the publishing deadline. (He was too busy coining deathless phrases like "a navel traumatized by bijouterie".)

But the bigger question is: what in the name of Crap does James Wood see in Bellow? Because I sure as heck can't see it. Wood keeps gushing about Bellow's descriptive verbiage and metaphor-coinage to the point where Wood sounds just like Amis. My guess is that Wood is intrigued by Bellow's vague Platonic religioso palavering. (This Platonism is also present in RAVELSTEIN.)

I'm not *entirely* ill-disposed toward Saul. I admire him for breaking Amis's heart by damning NIGHT TRAIN with faint praise. Plus ya gotta admire Saul for butching it out and outliving Bob Hope. I genuinely did Saul's taste in snap-brim hats. He's commendable for a multitude of reasons. Unfortunately, the manufacture of Fine Quality Entertainment isn't one of them.

5-0 out of 5 stars Mr. Bellow, One ofOur Living National Treasures
It would be superfluous to add anything to Mr. Wood's introductory essay. The story "The Bellarosa Connection", for my part, is worth the price of the book. ... Read more

4. Saul Bellow: Novels 1956-1964: Seize the Day, Henderson the Rain King, Herzog (Library of America)
by Saul Bellow
Hardcover: 800 Pages (2007-01-11)
list price: US$35.00 -- used & new: US$19.10
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 159853002X
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
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Customer Reviews (3)

5-0 out of 5 stars Bellow Vol.2
Another great collection of Bellow's works. Hope the Library of America comes out with the next volume sooner than a year.

5-0 out of 5 stars A beautiful edition of three powerful works by an American master
These are three very fine, even great, novels.Of course, one doesn't simply dash through Bellow.Each page requires and rewards close reading.While Bellow has been criticized for putting some things in his novels to show off his vast erudition, I found those details interesting and that they contributed to an understanding of the characters in each story.

The first novel is also the shortest."Seize the Day" is about a middle-aged man who has lost his way in life.Tommy Wilhem can't escape his father or his wife.He hasn't ever found a way to get a footing in life or to carve out a place of success for himself.Tommy's mother died too soon, and it seems his father is living too long.Not that we wish the old guy would die, but because he is so focused on himself that he has become a competitor to his son and does not respond as much of a father, let alone an indulgent one.The wife Wilhelm has left won't give him a divorce (this is before no-fault divorces) and is using everything at her disposal to punish Tommy.Should Tommy surrender and come home emasculated?Yes, Wilhelm has or had a girlfriend, but he doesn't even pull that off well.

Tommy is so desperate for approval that he first went to Hollywood to become the movie star a crooked agent said he could be.The central part of the story involves the investment strategies of Dr. Tamkin.Tommy hopes against reason that Tamkin can succeed and get him not only out of the financial pit he is in, but make him a success so he can finally be his own man.Well, a man of any kind.Some read the end of the story as Tommy finding a place for himself at last and that he will turn things around.I think this is a quite optimistic gloss on what the text actually says.

"Henderson the Rain King" is actually a lot of fun.While many have made the observation that Eugene Henderson's initials, the big gun, Africa, and hunting all betoken a satire of Hemingway, the writing is nothing like his.There is no doubt that Bellow is poking fun at a great many schools of then modern writing, but he is also dealing with the same kinds of themes teased out in "Seize the Day", but in comic form and drawn on a much larger canvas.

Henderson is a huge and physically imposing middle-aged man who is quite wealthy.However, he didn't earn the money, nor was he supposed to get it by inheritance.His father didn't have much use for him, but the favored son died and so the $3 million went to Eugene when dear old Dad died.Henderson was also quite unsuccessful in love, though he did have some adventures along those lines.He can never settle on anything because of the inner voice that cries out "I want, I want, I want".He is able to still the voice for a time with each new thing he tries, whether it is pig farming, playing the violin, painting, taking on a new lover, or adventuring in Africa.

It is this adventuring in Africa that provides the central adventures of the story and the title of the book.It is so much fun that I have to leave it for you to read and enjoy.It isn't all comic, though there are some serious, and some tender moments.The ending does leave the door open for hope that Henderson has found a way to quiet that voice at last.However, it is also possible to read it as another temporary respite and that Eugene will need to find another distraction to throw himself into in order to find another spot of peace.

"Herzog" is unquestionably a masterpiece.This book seems to be the fulfillment of Bellow's desire for "an American novel that might more optimistically search for the `sealed treasure' of ordinary life" [from the entry for 1960 of the chronology provided in this edition].The actual story of the book occupies only a few days in the life of Moses Elkanah Herzog.Don't you think that name is significant?Is he Moses the lawgiver?Hardly.What about the liberator - the one drawn forth in the reed basket or the one who draws his people out of slavery from Egypt to the Promised Land?Or is Bellow using ironically?What about the contrast between the English - American Moses verses the Yiddish - Hebrew Moshe that we hear him called by his stepmother?Which is he, really?Is he both the assimilated American still rooted in his childhood Yiddish?The middle name, Elkanah, means "God created" and refers to several different Levites (priestly class) in the Bible.Might this be a reference to his being a professor?A Ph.D.?The idea that the modern priests are the professors and educated elite?Again, there would be a certain sense of irony here, because Moses has quit his job, and a great deal of the book is him rejecting and commenting on the whole range of modern thought (as it was in the early 1960s).

Herzog is worn out.And very much like Tommy Wilhelm and Eugene Henderson, he suffers from a kind of impotence of the soul.His promiscuity is actually evidence of the sickness in his soul rather than a sign of robustness.He has former wife and son he threw over for a beautiful younger model, but she threw him over and cuckolded him with his "best friend" and took the daughter they had away to Chicago.It is obvious that Herzog wants her as a kind of possession and how that beauty makes him feel about himself.But it is a story that is richly played out in this large novel.Along the way, Herzog also had a longish relationship with a Japanese woman who was devoted to him, but he threw her away, too.At the time of the novel, he is involved with a strong woman named Ramona, and one of the results of her strength, which he needs and loves, is to run away from her to visit some friends.Immediately after arriving at his friends' home, he flees them, as well.

The story is famous for his impotent letter writing to historical figures, world authorities, friends, enemies, doctors, shrinks, and many other folks.But he rarely sends any of them.He does send a telegram to Ramona towards the end of the novel.

This is an amazingly detailed work that achieves a great deal in revealing the inner life of its protagonist.It was a best seller in its day and won the national book award.It is hard for me to believe that a great many of those who bought it read it from cover to cover.Maybe I am wrong.The topics of divorce, sexual affairs, cuckoldry, and madness were much more taboo than it would soon become.Maybe it was those subjects that caught the imagination of the public.However, there is nothing sensational or erotic in this work of art.That would be left to the pulp novelists such as Jacqueline Susann and an army of others beginning a few years later.

I do want to share one contrary thought that kept coming back to me as I read these novels.To these post-this and post-post-that sophisticates for whom all belief is provincial and even childish and for whom their sexual desires and phantasies become their gods and all important self-definition.Look at the wreckage of your lives, the lost wives, husbands, and children.Look at the lack of lasting happiness.Notice the need for pharmacological assistance to fight depression.Might I suggest something?Make your family the center of your life and give up the sexual fantasies and dalliances.Keep your children close and set aside the things that detract from these foundational values.Oh, I know this sounds so hick and, worst of all, center-of-the-country values.But it really isn't that.It is a form of happiness that actually works.Maybe it doesn't make for interesting novels, plays, movies, or TV shows, but those matter nothing at all.Keep your first wife or your first husband, (after you chose each other carefully - not for narcissistic reasons) and both focus on each other and your kids.Life will actually be better, and you will need a lot less legal and chemical help.Really.

All three of these novels are quite memorable.Bellow's importance has been recognized as has the quality of his work.He was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature and was also given many other awards throughout his life."Seize the Day" was made into a movie starring Robin Williams in 1986, but I can't find it in print anywhere.One of the things I do wonder about is having twenty-year-old college students read these works.It isn't that they can't read them, of course they can.However, it is hard for me to see how they can relate to these middle aged folks without having lived more and experienced more of the vagaries of real life.

This is a fine edition from the Library of America with a great chronology of Bellow's life and some notes on the text.

5-0 out of 5 stars The best of Bellow in one great volume
This remarkable volume contains what are in my opinion the three best novels of Bellow. One is the remarkable short novel, 'Seize the Day' the second is his African adventure the wildly comic 'Henderson' the third , his arguably best book, 'Herzog'. Herzog is his great meditation on history and civlization as he traces five - days in the life of Moses Herzog, a former university teacher, a historian, who is struggling to survive in the wake of his divorce from his second wife. In the course of this work Herzog writes letters to the living and the dead, including the famous dead a feature which gives special life to the book. In 'Seize the Day' the upper West Side of New York is the scene of the hero, Tommy Wilhelm's loss of a hold on his own life. As he pleads for money with his successful patronizing father Dr. Adler he falls into the clutches of the charlatan- wiseman Temkin and blows his last seven- hundred dollars on a speculative venture Temkin has recommended. The pathos of this tale of money- machine- murder of the soul- is great. It is a masterpiece of concise comic description and deep insight into the human heart. The final funeral scene is a truly great one.
These novels are among the finest twentieth- century American Literature has given us.
'Library of America' has done a service by putting them together in one most attractive volume. ... Read more

5. Herzog (Penguin Classics)
by Saul Bellow
Paperback: 400 Pages (2003-02-25)
list price: US$15.00 -- used & new: US$6.00
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0142437298
Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description
In one of his finest achievements, Nobel Prize winner Saul Bellow presents a multifaceted portrait of a modern-day hero, a man struggling with the complexity of existence and longing for redemption.

Introduction by Philip RothAmazon.com Review
A novel complex, compelling, absurd and realistic, Herzogbecame a classic almost as soon as it was published in 1964. In it SaulBellow tells the tale of Moses E. Herzog, a tragically confused intellectualwho suffers from the breakup of his second marriage, the general failure ofhis life and the specter of growing up Jewish in the middle part of the 20thcentury. He responds to his personal crisis by sending out a series ofletters to all kinds of people. The letters in total constitute a thoughtfulexamination of his own life and that which has occurred around him. Whatemerges is not always pretty, but serves as gritty foundation for thisabsorbing novel. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (75)

2-0 out of 5 stars Notes From The Void
Moses Herzog's sour contemplation of his overthought, underlived life makes for a curiously frustrating reading experience. Frustrating by design, perhaps, but no more worthwhile for that.

Herzog is a once-promising academic unable to build upon the success of his early work. When his second wife springs a surprise divorce on him, Herzog exiles himself to a decrepit cottage in the Berkshires and begins writing letters "to the newspapers, to people in public life, to friends and relatives and at last the dead, his own obscure dead, and finally the famous dead."

These letters form a narrative underpinning, allowing author Saul Bellow to address assorted questions of love, politics, and death in the form of Herzog's unanchored musings. To many reviewers, it seems these letters are wonderful and engaging reads. For me, they added to the disjointed and stymied nature of a novel stuck in neutral for three-fourths of its 400 pages.

When "Herzog" was published in 1964, reviewers hailed it as a bold advance in literature because its big thoughts are not subtext but the text itself. "After 'Herzog' no writer need pretend in his fiction that his education stopped in the eighth grade," was the review in The New York Times. Bellow has Herzog contemplating Hegel, Hobbes, Spinoza, Nietzsche, the problem of being both Jewish and secular, the tensions of city life, etc. which for a lot of reviewers was great. No need to wrest those concerns out from under the coils of characterization or plot.

The characters in "Herzog" are broad types except for the autobiographical Herzog himself, and the plot is kept at bay a long time by Herzog and Bellow alike. At one point, holed up in the city, Herzog is called by his lover, and agrees to come over. He then spends the next 30 pages on flashbacks and letter-writing while she and the reader wait for something to happen.

"Herzog" does move a bit in its last quarter, as Moses puts down his pen and opts for direct action instead. Bellow does push the pedal a bit; there's even a gun and a car crash. But my lack of empathy for Herzog and the others kept the story at a distance even then.

It's a shame, because as a writer Bellow does create some masterful descriptive passages, and his outlook on the whole is a good deal more warm and engaging than "Herzog's" high-brow exterior suggests. We read of Herzog's desire for transcendence, both mortal and spiritual, and his emerging sensitivity to the fact life exists outside the narrow perimeters of his little world. Death, "the void", is ever-present on his mind, but he grasps for something other than the mindless nihilism of sexual fulfillment. "After all, we have no positive knowledge of that void," Herzog thinks.

Whether Herzog achieves any transcendence is perhaps left to the reader. My reading had the book just end suddenly with nothing settled, which may indeed be Bellow's point. The modern novel may not need a resolution, or plot and characters for that matter. But I do, which left me dissatisfied in Bellow's company despite his ability to channel and develop deep thoughts. "Herzog" may well be a pillar of modern novel-writing, but to me it's also an example of where the modern novel went wrong.

4-0 out of 5 stars Sad Personal Perspective After Author's Own Divorce [34]
Unlike his two other most famous novels - The Adventures of Augie March(1953) or Henderson the Rain King (1959) -Bellow's Herzogis a sad character who does not even have open moments of happiness - or so it seems.When you read the first ten pages, you read the following, and wonder if you want to read more: "To his son and his daughter, he wads a loving but bad father. To his own parents he had been ungrateful child. To his country, an indifferent citizen. To his brothers and sister, affectionate but remote. With his friends, an egoist. With love, lazy. With brightness, dull. With power, passive. With his own soul, evasive."

As the book progresses, those words prove to be wholly true, poignantly effective in delivering a pithy description of this novel hovering about the potentially worst years of a somewhatunamazing,and successfully and continually depressing life of a Ph.D. who cannot find essence in his being - though capable of dissecting eons of ages of historical events, his specialty.

Another great Jewish heartbreak kid, Herzog leaves marital non-bliss for relations with women who are anything but Jewish.To his Japanese lover, he wonders, " Have all the traditions, passions, renunciations, virtues, gems, and masterpieces of Hebrew discipline and all the rest of it - rhetoric, a lot of it, but obtaining true facts brought him to . . . this dirty mattress?"

Pouring over defeatist issues brought upon him by his former wife or other disastrous decisions he made, Herzog either is a sad sack with bad luck or a whining child.You, the reader, can choose which he is. In either event, he issomeone you would probably not want to meet as his topic of conversation would seemingly always be about these depressing events in his depressing life which would only deliver a listener to depression.

Saul Bellow joins John Updike, James Agee, Norman Mailer and others who have the similar writingtone - that of white men whose works often seem the product after sleep-in mornings with hangover aches, followed by afternoon martinis and delivered with swollen eyes squinting from the dappled sunlight squeezing past the lone window's exposure as well as the surrounding cigarette smoke emanating from the ashtray stuffed full of butts and on theside of the writer's Remington typewriter.

2-0 out of 5 stars Another obligation cheerlessly completed
So, another classic of American literature that I can officially cross off of my "to read" list...and believe me, that's really the only reason I finished Saul Bellow's "Herzog". Of course, I'd heard a lot of praise for Bellow over the years, and this book in particular as it's considered to be his masterwork. Seemed like a good place to start with an author I hadn't previously experienced.

Moses Herzog is an academic and intellectual staring mid-life right in the face. His academic publishing life is foundering, his marriage has collapsed and he's questioning everything about his life and the meaning of...well, virtually everything. Okay, such introspection can be entertaining. It can guide a reader to consider things they might not have done otherwise. But Herzog's got an additional problem that prevents this type of book from being enjoyable: he's a bit batty. Not only is he experiencing a typical mid-life crisis, he seems to be losing his grip on reality. He's not certifiable, not completely crazy, but his perception of the world is distorted. His grip on actuality seems tenuous.

There is no intricate plot. There's not an even half-way solid plot to this novel. Instead, Herzog stumbles through through this particular period in his life, trying to figure out what to do about his career, how to deal with his wife's betrayal and affair, how to relate to his daughter under these new difficult circumstances and how to handle his involvement with his own girlfriend-on-the-side, Ramona. Bellow drags the reader through this maze of Herzog's personal details, interspersing them with a series of mystifying letters Herzog writes to other characters, some famous, some not (one is written to President Eisenhower). These letters are one of the most annoying features of the narrative. They are often impenetrable, meandering, and incomprehensible. Frankly, most of them seem like meaningless academic drivel that are either intended to highlight Herzog's anguished mental state or are meant to be deeply meaningful investigations of existentialism. Whatever the intent, they simply bored me and caused me to wish for a rapid end to the book.

In the end, like other books that I have thoroughly disliked, Herzog simply runs out of pages. No great story has been told, no great revelations have been made and the reader (at least this one) has little to show for the investment of their time. It's a bad sign that you're reading a book simply because you refuse to let it defeat you. I can say that I successfully wrestled "Herzog" to the ground and read every last page, but I can't say that I'd recommend the experience to anyone else that enjoys literature.

4-0 out of 5 stars Between godly insight and madness
So I finnished "Herzog" by Saul Bellow. It was good. It's a strange book about a guy Herzog who is maybe mad, maybe wise, all the time you think he is going to collapse. Herzog is a very clever, perceptive guy, a university professor who has written a book about the Romantics and Christianity. "Herzog" describes among other things Herzog's thought processes, often Nietzsche is mentioned. The meaninglessness of the world is all the time threatening to make his world collapse all together. I came to think about the chapter in the bible:
"Vanity of vanities, said the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity." (The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. Ecclesiastes 1:1 ) Also the book reminded me about Nietzsches collapse, reading the book is perhaps a little bit like being inside Nietzsches head when he was growing mad. The book is also about an American who seems still very attached to his Jewish identity, a bit puzzling for me. Because I think he was born in America, so I should think his identification as an American would have been stronger. Another reference comming to mind concerning this book is good old Franz Kafka, although not stylistically, but something about the authors alianation from his surroundings made me think of Kafka. I guess you could say that this book is a modern classic in American litterature?

4-0 out of 5 stars Tough, gritty, real: how to live in a world that tears you apart

Saul Bellow is definitely one of my favorite authors. Most specifically for his ability to blend his hard-scrabble working class upbringing with the life of the mind he ends up leading. In this book he is tackling the two problems: his own humiliating 2nd divorce and the thinker's reaction to holocaust and genocide of the mid-20th century.

Bellow's books are dense and read more like philosophical treatises than proper novels and this is no exception. His protagonists are overtly male which I think would make this book doubly difficult [potentially uninteresting?] for women readers.

Still, if you are curious about the state of the mind in mid-twentieth century (was Hegel right about history ending, just in the wrong century?), then this book will be rewarding. ... Read more

6. To Jerusalem and Back (Classic, 20th-Century, Penguin)
by Saul Bellow
Paperback: 192 Pages (1998-05-01)
list price: US$13.95 -- used & new: US$6.50
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0141180757
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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You sit at dinner with charming people in a dining room like any other. Yet you know that your hostess has lost a son and that her sister lost children in the 1973 war. A fact of Jewish life left unchanged by the creation of a Jewish State is that, "You cannot take your right to love for granted". ... Read more

Customer Reviews (6)

5-0 out of 5 stars the more things change.....

...the more they remain the same. I was in Jerusalem, the Galilee, and Jordan last year. The people in charge are different. The people at every level are saying the same things.

This book is written in Bellow's wonderful mix of incisive analysis and subjective transparency. I love his writing and loved the book, though it makes me sad. Mailed a copy to my travel companions.

3-0 out of 5 stars A time capsule of a time and place
To Jerusalem and Back chronicles Saul Bellow's trip to Israel in the mid-70s.As such, it is a time capsule of that time and place.Palestinian groups are still Marxist-Leninist.There is almost no stirring of the Islamic revolution to come.Rabin is the Prime Minister during his first term; Egypt and Israel have just reached the interim agreement that would later become the Camp David accords.The tone of this work is dark, pessimistic.Bellow believed the conflict would go on as it was for generations.In a sense he was right, but in another quite wrong.For this book also shows the progress that has been made since the mid-70s.Israel has signed peace agreements with both Egypt and Jordan.It is an economic powerhouse with a stable economy,high tech jobs, universal health care. Israel still fears for its existence, but it is a more illusory fear than at the time of this book.It is less existential and fundamental.It is more about style than outcome. So in this very narrow sense, To Jerusalem and Back is an interesting work to read in light of later developments.

5-0 out of 5 stars A reading of Israel and the world in 1975
Well known , Nobel prize winning author , put his pen to the service of recording his 1975 visit to the Land of Israel and his thoughts on the dillemas faced by Israel at the time , and on world politics at large in the mid 1970's.
The author puts down his observations , from his thoughts about Hassidim on a plane from Heathrow to Ben Gurion airport to a secular kibbutz near Ceasarea, and his meetings with leaders andthinkers in Israel such as former Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban , Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kolleck , poet and journalist Chaim Gouri and professor Yehoshafat Harkabi as well as Arab figures like Mahmoud Abu Zuluf , editor of the al Kuds , at the time the largest Arab language newspaper in Jerusalem , who'se life , and the life of his children , the author reports where threatened for his relatively 'moderate and conciliatory' line.

Although Abu Zuluf later became a stooge of Arafat and the PLO.
Bellow observes the Israeli people as lacking in rancour or bitterness against the Arabs , despite being constantly under the threat of anihilation and targeted by terrorism.
The threat of anihilation , of a second holocaust , looms permanently in the Israeli mind , leading one of Bellow's aquaintances to observe that it would be a horrible irony if the Jews being gathered in one place enabled a second holocaust to become a reality.
since before the State of Israel was established the Jews of Israel have had to live with terror , an example in this book being a homicide attack ""on the Jaffa Road, because of another bomb, six adolescents-two on a break from school-stopping at a coffee shop to eat buns, have just died."

It is because of his relatively sympathetic portrait of the Israeli people in this volume , that Bellow came under attack from anti-Israel high priest of the ultra-left , Noam Chomsky.
Bellow muses on the attempts made by Jean Paul Sartre to balance his understandingofIsrael, with his sympathy of the Arabs and his anti-American stance.

This book was written in the embryonic stages of anti-Israel hatemongering from leftwing academics in the West , alhtough it must be noted that all their propaganda was created in the old Soviet Union , where the 'Zionism is racism' canard was created .
In a heartfelt plea the author writes: 'I sometimes wonder why it is impossible for Western intellectuals...to say to the Arabs " We have to demmand also more from you. You too-the Marxists among you in particular- must try to do something for brotherhood and make peace with the Jews , for they have suffered monstrously in Christian Europe and under Islam. Israel occupies under one sixth of one percent of the lands you call Arab. Isn't it possible to adjust the traditions of Islam , to reinterpret , to change , to change emphasis , so as to accept the trifling occupancy? A great civilization should be capable of humane and generous flexibility. The destruction of Israel will do you no good, let the Jews live in their small state".
In reporting on a converstaion with Professor Jacob Leib Talmon , Bellow reports Talmon's warnings that 'the fate of Jewry in Israel and the Diaspora , is so closely linked he says , that the destruction of Israel would bring with it 'the destruction of corporate Jewish existance all over the world , and a catastrophy that might overtake US Jewry"
Alas , in the 30 years since this was written , leftwing academics (and the media) around the world have been the main force in hardening Arab attitudes , by taking up anti-Israel hatred to Nazi-like levels.

While the author has an overall understanding attitude of the Israeli people , he is rather less so of the Jewish residents of the disputed territories of Judea and Samaria, not quite seeming to understand the depth of the Jewish right to and connection with this part of the Land of Israel.

2-0 out of 5 stars mediocre travel book
This book is less about the Jerusalem that Bellow visited and more about himself.Indeed, his presence is so pronounced that he appears more fascinated with his own perceptions than he is with what he is witnessing, or so it seemed to me.While the writing is clear and vivid, I can now recall virtually nothing of what he describes, except for himself and his personal reactions - it is he who sees things more clearly than his hosts, etc etc.After 100 pages, this is boring.Alas, I got nothing out of this and it is also badly dated.

Not recommended.

5-0 out of 5 stars He knows the score
Bellow came to Jerusalem as celebrated novelist . Every door was open to him , and he met with Israelis from all walks of life. He writes an essentially sympathetic and understanding account of Israel and its special situation. He knows the score in terms of the Jewish past, the great sufferings many of the survivors living in Israel have gone through. He understands the constant threat from their Arab neighbors under which Israel lives. But he tries to see the situation too with sympathy for the Arab side. His basic line politically is of the left, and he clearly favors political compromise.
The book does provide a pretty fair picture of Israeli society. But it is possible to quarrel with Bellow's basic orientation which is that of a Diaspora Jew who does not feel any call to Aliyah to Israel, and does not have much understanding or sympathy for a good share of its population, the religious.
All in all though this is an insightful look into Israeli society by a commentator of great intelligence and literary skill. ... Read more

7. Humboldt's Gift (Penguin Classics)
by Saul Bellow
Paperback: 512 Pages (2008-10-28)
list price: US$16.00 -- used & new: US$9.57
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0143105477
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Two twentieth-century literary masterpieces from the Nobel Prize winner

Saul Bellow’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel explores the long friendship between Charlie Citrine, a young man with an intense passion for literature, and the great poet Von Humboldt Fleisher. At the time of his death, however, Humboldt is a failure, and Charlie’s life is falling apart: his career is at a standstill, and he’s enmeshed in an acrimonious divorce, infatuated with a highly unsuitable young woman, and involved with a neurotic mafioso. And then Humboldt acts from beyond the grave, bestowing upon Charlie an unexpected legacy that may just help him turn his life around. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (47)

5-0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Ode to Delmore Schwartz
Saul Bellow's style of fictional writing, with its philosophical digressions and intellectual heft, owes alot to the fictional writing of the poet/short story writer Delmore Schwartz. And this roman a clef is a touching ode to Schwartz, presenting the reader with a sad and poignant portrait of the poet as he was descending into alcoholism and madness. If you have an interest in Schwartz and/or the relationship that Bellow and Schwartz had, then the novel is a must-read.

Much of the philosophizing in the book concerns the difficulty of achieving success as a "serious" artist in an American culture that only values art as another commodity. And the book shows how that kind of culture can break an artists like Von Humboldt Fleisher (the character based upon Schwartz). Although it's true that the American culture that Bellow depicts in this novel is from the mid-twentieth century, the issues explored here are just as relevant today.

5-0 out of 5 stars Crammed with the American Experience
Humboldt's Gift showcases Bellow at his very best.There are the long digression we find in his other work; but in Gift, they are somehow more relevant and soothing.Bellow takes all the threads of his story and ties them together in a way he does not in many of his longer works.On completing this novel, there is no feeling that something has been left undone; the author has accomplished what he wanted to do and we know it.And most astonishing of all, Humboldt's Gift makes grand and lofty statements about the American condition without sounding self-conscious, righteous or preachy.Bellow created a novel with the American moral tone of a great work by Melville, James, Twain or Fitzgerald.

2-0 out of 5 stars Where's the Beef?
Having read Mr. Sammler's Planet, I had high hopes for this novel.I pictured something loaded with insight
and jewels of descriptions on every page.This book has scant few of these things and lots of name dropping rambling unconvincing philosophy and boring characters...(Where are all the wonderful characters in Sammler's Planet?).In short it is a dud and long.I especially liked the commentator who said realism and stream of thought do not automatically produce a good novel. Where's the beef?

3-0 out of 5 stars Pretty good

I'm not up to the long discussion this book deserves but will say that for every element of it that is sublime and breathtakingly novel, there are corresponding parts that are tedious and self-conscious. The story, as it were, has more or less been completely told by page 200.

3-0 out of 5 stars Overrated and unmemorable Novel
Clearly Bellow wrote beautiful prose and some of his passages in this are excellent. My problem with the novel is that I felt that I was wading through endless digressions and pretentious ruminations of the main character Charlie Citrine to get to the hidden gems. I struggled to finish this and frankly wouldn't recommend it. Citrine in the end is neithera believable or sympathetic character and his inner dialogue becomes a study in boredom. Since at one point he goes into great detail to discuss boredom in modern life maybe that was the point. I almost felt like the author was intentionally testing the readers ability to endure the pacing of this book. ... Read more

8. Henderson the Rain King
by Saul Bellow
Paperback: 368 Pages (2008-10-28)
list price: US$15.00 -- used & new: US$10.20
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Asin: 0143105485
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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BELLOW EVOKES ALL THE RICH COLOR and exotic customs of a highly imaginary Africa in this acclaimed comic novel about a middle-aged American millionaire who, seeking a new, more rewarding life, descends upon an African tribe. Henderson’s awesome feats of strength and his unbridled passion for life win him the admiration of the tribe—but it is his gift for making rain that turns him from mere hero into messiah. A hilarious, often ribald story, Henderson the Rain King is also a profound look at the forces that drive a man through life. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (81)

3-0 out of 5 stars Henderson The Rain King
I was diappointed that this audio book would not work inside my car DVD player.
I had to play it on my computer.The main reason I order on line with Amazon is to
hear the book while driving my car during long trips which are usually long hauls.

1-0 out of 5 stars Save time by skipping this dud
Maybe this book resonated with a few people in the 1950s, but there's absolutely nothing in it that resonates with me.Besides being tedious to read, the caricaturing of Africans and women was beyond the pale.It wasn't funny, informative, thought-provoking, or entertaining.With all the great books available to read, don't waste your time on this one.

5-0 out of 5 stars Remarkable Performance
Joe Barrett's voice left me with a less than appealing first impression. But over the course of the novel it grew on me, and gradually it dawned on me that the rough and expressive contralto is sort of perfect for Henderson--the first person narrator.

Barrett also manages the voices of other characters seamlessly. Many male audiobook narrators have an annoying habit of overdoing female voices--not so Barrett.

Henderson the Rainking is an old favorite novel of mine, but this recording renewed my appreciation with an enchantment all its own.

5-0 out of 5 stars Epic Tale of 1950's Urbanite in Old Africa [21] [80]
Middle-aged and mammoth-sized protagonist Henderson is the 1950's version of American Renaissance man whose insights are both abrasive and totally American: "I have made some clear observations. " First of all, few people are sane. . . Next, slavery has never really been abolished. "

When confronted by midlife ennui to a woman whose allegiance to he is about identical to his to her, and all contrasted to the birth of twins who have yet to commence elementary school education, he does what wealthy people in those days could do when all things are not rosy at home: take a trip to the far edge of the world to see the man on the mountain and maybe come back with imprimatur or actual learned knowledge from the Swahili or whoever caught his attention.

In this novel, the trip is to Africa, where he soon hires a local man to translate and lead to villages which never have known white men, never known the concept of tourism and which are devoid of modern day elements.He sees two.In each, his greatest moments are not the villages or villagers - but instead he relies upon their leaders whose educations in Europe have made each a cross cultural icon to whom the large white man must gape at in amazement and awe.They are wise as the Oxford's finest - full of old world concepts sprinkled with modernism's sciences.One king tells Henderson, "Man is a creature who cannot stand still under blows.Now take the horse - he never needs a revenge.Nor the ox.But man is a creature of revenges. . . He cannot get rid of the punishment, his heart is apt to rot from it."

As the story unfolds, Henderson receives some physical, but mostly emotional blows.And, as his wisdom increases, he learns not to seek revenge -a reflex action he held when living in America as a northeastern socialite - but instead learns to deal with the bruises as medals of knowledge.He grows.As he tells his wife in a letter, he matured 20 years in 20 days with these kings.

But, he learns the elders of one village are as painstakingly evil as Cain.They deliver blows to their leader to capture his kingdom, and lead Henderson to conclude that, ". . . inside, my heart ran with human feeling, but externally, in the rind if you like, I showed all the strange abuses and malformations of a lifetime."He is broken hearted.

In the end, we learn the maturation and trip are both real and well received by the character who divulges many inner and private issues with the reader.We are happy for him as he is a better person because of the wisdom of the leaders of what white men refer to as savages.

Like The Adventures of Augie March, Bellow takes us on a journey all over parts of the globe ordinarily not known or seen - especially to Americans at the time of the author's publications.To date, the trips in each are still unique and romantic to the 21st century reader and make such ventures great topic for literature, which combined with Bellow's prose, make complete and excellent fiction.

3-0 out of 5 stars A Philosophical Roar
"I was not the lion, but it fell to me to give the lion's roar." ~Winston Churchill

Henderson the Rain King is the story of Henderson, a middle-aged man, who despite his wealth is unsatisfied with his life. He feels unfulfilled and continues to hear a voice in his head that says, "I want, I want, I want." In his quest for meaning he travels to remote African villages for spiritual and emotional enlightenment.

Henderson is a pretty unlikeable character at first as he is is selfish and uncaring. He has a lot of faults as Bellow lets us into his personal thoughts. He becomes more and more likable as the book progresses. He has a real desire to help people; the problem is he is like a bull in a china shop and is in such a rush to help he tends to make things worse. Along the way Henderson unknowingly does something that makes him the Rain King in one remote village. He becomes fast friends with the native king and they spend hours discussing philosophy and the meaning of life. The king spends hours with him and a tame lion teaching him how to become like a lion and to cast off his former self.

This book was ranked #21 on Modern Library's list of the 100 Best Novels. It was written in 1959 and is considered by many a modern-day classic. I enjoyed many aspects of the book, especially the story and the excellent writing; however, I had a difficult time with the pages upon pages of philosophical reflections. It got pretty mind numbing to me. That's a possible reflection on my somewhat short-attention span but I found myself falling to sleep over and over in the middle of these ongoing ramblings. It took me a long time to read but I think it worthy of a recommendation if only for the powerful and imaginative writing. ... Read more

9. Seize the Day (Penguin Classics)
by Saul Bellow
Paperback: 144 Pages (2003-05-27)
list price: US$14.00 -- used & new: US$7.45
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0142437611
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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GBF Discussion; Guide online

Introduction by Cynthia Ozick. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (73)

5-0 out of 5 stars A day in the life
There are any number of good reasons to read this alarmingly lovely and grimly hilarious novella from 1956. Here's just one, an unforgettable paragraph on page 87 in which Tommy Wilhelm and Dr. Tamkin go out to lunch:

"They ate in the cafeteria with the gilded front. There was the same art inside as outside. The food looked sumptuous. Whole fishes were framed liked pictures with carrots, and the salads were like terraced landscapes or like Mexican pyramids; slices of lemon and onion and radishes were like sun and moon and stars; the cream pies were about a foot thick and the cakes swollen as if sleepers had baked them in their dreams."

For anyone who has ever had a soft spot for a good cakeshop, that last bit is especially sweetly crafted.

2-0 out of 5 stars An overrated book by an overrated writer.
This slender novel -- really just an extended character sketch -- presents a morose, self-pitying loser gazing into his navel. There is almost nothing else worth reading here. I give it two stars rather than one because Bellow is obviously a serious writer. It's too bad he isn't a more interesting one.

4-0 out of 5 stars Depressing Day in a Depressing Person's Life
As a novelist whose work certainly mirrors his personal life, Saul Bellow's 1956 novella Seize the Day certainly depicts what apparently was the worst time in the author's early life.

In 1956, Bellow waited 8 months in Reno while his divorce was finalizing.During that time this work was finished. This book focuses upon one bad day for a washed-up actor, washed-out salesman protagonist named Tommy Wilhelm whose ignorance or bad luck make for one really bad day.

Unlike the overly worked and extremely detailed depressing events of other famous one-day novels -Ulysses or the sop melodrama ending of life day in Under the Volcano -the details are crisply portrayed in this piece. Like Ulysses or Under the Volcano, this fictional account of a man's day in a man's life can be deemed depressing by the vast majority of its readers - maybe even a unanimous crowd of readers would agree to the depressing aspects of this and the other two novels.

Although the Beatles told us "Money can't buy me love", Tommy would like a little of it.Pay some to the ex-spouse so as to make her less belligerent in hounding him for more money for she and "her boys."If he had made a little more, he may have earned a little more respect from the person most people want to receive praise or respect from: their parent(s). At one time, realizing his affluent and very successful father's objectionable impression of his failed son is about money, he blurts to his father, ". .. You hate me. And if I had money you wouldn't. By God, you have to admit it. The money makes the difference. Then we would be a fine father and son.. . " To which his father replies, "I can't give you any money. There would be no end to it if I started . . . I want nobody on my back. Get off!"

That may have been one of the less painful discussions between the two as they were at least direct and honest with one another.Something which many other passages lack.

This author, I believe, delivers novels from the heart.When times are better, happier pieces like The Adventures of Augie March emerge.When they are sadder, you receive works like this or Herzog (.March is styledmore like fellow Chicagoan - Theodore Dreiser.This work and Herzog are more like John O'Hara, John Updike or Richard Ford.Choose to your liking

5-0 out of 5 stars A good look at the desperation all of us have within
One of Bellow's more famous works, Seize the Day is a novella depicting the very tumultuous goings-on in a day of "Tommy" Wilhelm Adler's life.Tommy is the quintessential has-been (or possibly never-was).He is an actor who never made it.In his middle-age, he still depends on his father as an adolescent does--even throwing tantrums when his father does not see things his way.Tommy is estranged from his wife, has no job or hope of finding work, and lacks the wherewithal to function as an adult in society.He is easily swept up by confidence men such as Dr. Tamkin, an unctuous snake who swindles him in the commodities trade.
The pages fly by all too quickly here.Tommy, at the end, comes to terms with his lot, but still the reader is left with the idea that nothing will change.Essentially, Tommy becomes a neurotic allegory for the child in all of us who never wants to grow up, who wants to be taken care of, who refuses to accept life as it truly is and instead dwells in a mental utopia.When the time comes, I shall definitely be seeking more of Bellow's works.

Matt Finizio
Box off.Life on.

4-0 out of 5 stars There ain't no little ways to make things better, and the only big thing is money
In the story Looking for Mr. Green, in my edition of Seize the Day, a minor character summarizes the mood of this entire work.In Seize the Day, we can find the Ur-Bellow concerns; most of the themes that can be found in his later literature, somewhat more fleshed out, are found here.

Overwhelmingly, this is the place of money, power and position in American life.Some later Bellow work appears to reveal in American prosperity and materialism.He is adept at explaining in detail the quality and price of a jacket or tie or a sports car.But in Seize the Day, Americam capitalism runs over the main character, at the end reducing him to literal tears.

If anyone wants to see the early Bellow flexing his new literary muscles, this work must be read. ... Read more

10. Ravelstein (Penguin Great Books of the 20th Century)
by Saul Bellow
Paperback: 233 Pages (2001-05-01)
list price: US$15.00 -- used & new: US$1.84
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0141001763
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Abe Ravelstein is a brilliant professor at a prominent midwestern university and a man who glories in training the movers and shakers of the political world. He has lived grandly and ferociously-and much beyond his means. His close friend Chick has suggested that he put forth a book of his convictions about the ideas which sustain humankind, or kill it, and much to Ravelstein's own surprise, he does and becomes a millionaire. Ravelstein suggests in turn that Chick write a memoir or a life of him, and during the course of a celebratory trip to Paris the two share thoughts on mortality, philosophy and history, loves and friends, old and new, and vaudeville routines from the remote past. The mood turns more somber once they have returned to the Midwest and Ravelstein succumbs to AIDS and Chick himself nearly dies.

Deeply insightful and always moving, Saul Bellow's new novel is a journey through love and memory. It is brave, dark, and bleakly funny: an elegy to friendship and to lives well (or badly) lived.Amazon.com Review
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Saul Bellow confined himself to shorterfictions. Not that this old master ever dabbled in minimalism: novellassuch as The Actualand The BellarosaConnection are bursting at the seams with wit, plot, and theintellectual equivalent of high fiber. Still, Bellow's readers wondered ifhe would ever pull another full-sized novel from his hat. WithRavelstein, the author has done just that--and he proves that even inhis ninth decade, he can pin a character to the page more vividly, and morepermanently, than just about anybody on the planet.

Character is very much the issue in Ravelstein, whose eponymoussubject is a thinly disguised version of Bellow's boon companion, the lateAllan Bloom.Like Bloom, Abe Ravelstein has spent much of his career at the Universityof Chicago, fighting a rearguard action against the creeping boobism andvulgarity of American life. What's more, he's written a surprise bestseller(a ringer, of course, for The Closing of the AmericanMind), which has made him into a millionaire. And finally, he'sdying--has died of AIDS, in fact, six years before the opening of thenovel. What we're reading, then, is a faux memoir by his best friend andanointed Boswell, a Bellovian body-double named Chick:

Ravelstein was willing to lay it all out for me. Now why did he bother totell me such things, this large Jewish man from Dayton, Ohio? Because itvery urgently needed to be said. He was HIV-positive, he was dying ofcomplications from it. Weakened, he became the host of an endless list ofinfections. Still, he insisted on telling me over and over again what lovewas--the neediness, the awareness of incompleteness, the longing forwholeness, and how the pains of Eros were joined to the most ecstaticpleasures.
Ravelstein is a little thin in the plot department--or moreaccurately, it has an anti-plot, which consists of Chick's inability towrite his memoir. But seldom has a case of writer's block been so supremelyproductive. The narrator dredges up anecdote after anecdote about hissubject, assembling a composite portrait: "In approaching a man likeRavelstein, a piecemeal method is perhaps best." We see this veryworldly philosopher teaching, kvetching, eating, drinking, and dying, thelast in melancholic increments. His death, and Chick's own brush with whatHenry Jamescalled "the distinguished thing," give much of the novel a kind ofblack-crepe coloration. But fortunately, Bellow shares Ravelstein's"Nietzschean view, favorable to comedy and bandstands," and there can't bemany eulogies as funny as this one.

As always, the author is lavish with physical detail, bringing not only hisstar but a large gallery of minor players to rude and resounding life ("Rahkmiel was a non-benevolent Santa Claus, a dangerous person, ruddy,with a red-eyed scowl and a face in which the anger muscles were highlydeveloped"). His sympathies are also stretched in some interestingdirections by his homosexual protagonist. Bellow hasn't, to be sure,transformed himself into an affirmative-action novelist. But his famouslycapacious view of human nature has been enriched by this additionalwrinkle: "In art you become familiar with due process. You can't simplywrite people off or send them to hell." A world-class portrait, a piercingintimation of mortality, Ravelstein is truly that otherdistinguished thing: a great novel. --James Marcus ... Read more

Customer Reviews (115)

5-0 out of 5 stars Great Politics and Personal Metaphysics
Having read *Ravelstein*, I feel as if awakened from a nightmare:gripped by absolute fear, yet barely knowing the meaning of the dream.This story, published in the year 2000, is a walking shadow of the twentieth century: It is a tale told by an idiot, *void* of sound and jury, signifying everything.Everything, that is, that one could be brought to willfully see; but, there is so much else we would rather.

Although the character Ravelstein is essentially Allan Bloom, it cannot be said that Chick is substantially Saul Bellow.The narrator, Chick, is of lesser stature than his creator.Chick is not as famous, not so wealthy, easygoing, less conscientious, and less intelligent (for Chick writes of Pasadena as hosting the Orange Bowl; he believes that a "Sword of Dimwitocles", no doubt phallic in nature, has a spell over him; and he is happy to see his books make it to the low-end best-seller list, earning only middling returns).Despite Chick's shortcomings, he, at heart, is indeed Bellow, for Ravelstein and Chick are close friends, "none closer," just as Bloom and Bellow had been.One suspects that Bellow writes about Bloom from a feigned lowly stature because he sought to soften the blow of the most subtle insight that is to be revealed about his friend.But there are at least two other good reasons.First, Bellow uses the "dim" and jealous Chick to color (green, naturally) the friendship in question; we must scrutinize the characterizations of Ravelstein in order to out the truth, that being the realness of the friendship beneath the envy.Second, Bellow's respect for Bloom, whether in the flesh or in remembrance, was such that he did not want to sink to affectations that would have displeased Bloom.So, Bellow stood his safe distance, and the result was art.

*Ravelstein* is, unmistakably, a seamless masterpiece about achieving redemption in an age of nihilism.Any failure to discern this theme is to confuse salvation with redemption, and to miss the greatness of this novel.There are four heroes in this work, each either a redeemer or a sinner.Chick, a representative of American nihilism, finds redemption in the love of his wife, Rosamund, as well as in his "personal metaphysics" in which truths are revealed to him in epiphanies.Rosamund, plain and angelic, is the second one, a heroine not unlike Mother Mary, whose love is the rarest of all, the love one has for another.Ravelstein is a hero as well.We do not read much praise about how exactly he was one of "mankind's benefactors," nor are we told exactly what was so esoteric about his knowledge (some people believe that Bloom's *Closing of the American Mind* was a difficult read and therefore "esoteric"!).Supposedly, all of that is beside the point, or so says Chick.Ravelstein turns out not only to be a hero, but a tragic one at that.This is Bellow's one and only underlying criticism of his friend -- to the extent that truthful observations, which could only have arisen out of a thorough understanding of soul, may be called criticism.

Understanding the heroic nature of the three men and one woman first requires one to understand what is common or uncommon about them.Rosamund would seem to be uncommonly perfect.Chick has a "pernicious habit."Ravelstein has a "reckless sex habit."Many have faulted Bellow for outing Bloom, not only as an "invert," but moreover, as reckless.Ravelstein died of the infections that come with having AIDS.Couldn't Bellow have just omitted that minor detail, whether actual or fictitious?Bellow viewed Bloom as a *great* friend.He reserves the word 'great' in its basic sense to speak of great evil, great politics, and another great man -- but not of Ravelstein.A great man who engages in great politics would not end up in tragic circumstances.

The paradoxes of Ravelstein, presented only on their surface by Chick, must be unraveled.Ravelstein had been a Jew -- actually, at the time of his death, he still considered himself a Jew -- but was also said to be an atheist.How could God forgive that, and does not a non-believer cease to be Jewish?Goethe wrote that "He who strives on and lives to strive / Can earn redemption still."Another paradox in Ravelstein, not altogether unrelated to his studied atheism, is his recklessness in living, even while he firmly opposed suicide as a Jew.It is Ravelstein, the teacher, who becomes impatient with Chick for appearing to be flippant about suicide.Ravelstein reminds Chick that the Jews believe "when you destroy a human life you destroy an entire world -- the world as it existed for that person."Yet, when it comes to his own life, Ravelstein's habits are not merely "pernicious" (injurious to others) as are Chick's, but reckless and, as the pop psychologists of today would say, self-destructive, or a slower form of dying.Our sorrow in the face of the tragedy is increased rather than reduced by noting that Bellow was only bringing to us an honest appraisal.He should not have needed to apologize for that.Allan Bloom would not have put his intellectually weaker friend in a position of telling the truth, the partial truth.

Contrary to many published reviews that claim *Ravelstein* is meandering or otherwise poorly constructed, I find the book to be concise.And although the story construction is seamless, it bursts at the seams, for its central topic is mentioned only a few times in passing, for example, as the great evil; another signficant mention was that "according to Davarr, who was a very great analyst, German militarism produced the extremest and most horrible nihilism."Bellow had too much respect for the many who died to speak very directly about them, particularly in a story of art that, however, was destined to be politicized.What makes *Ravelstein* a masterpiece of portrayal is how well Chick, an unknowing "dim wit," is able to lay bare the incomprehensible in- humanity.He also ably brings to light the final causes of the most subtle thinkers.Heroic esoterics aside, that seems to me to be the only way to understand, standing from the outside, the two atheist redeemers of *Ravelstein*.Most astonishing was Bellow's juxtaposition of the deaths of the many with his friend's own dying."How do you suppose ... that a man like Ravelstein might match up his existence -- his daily awareness that he is dying -- with the fact that his attention now is drawn to the many millions who were destroyed in this century."

Non-Jews may wonder what a book with some "Jewish themes" could offer to them.Bellow gently challenges us, in a rather universal way, to use our intelligence -- or, our honest naivete as the case may be -- whether as believer or non-believer, to resist evil ideas and to recognize people of good nature for what they are.In doing so, each may then yet earn redemption.

4-0 out of 5 stars Could have been a masterpiece
Bellow was off on a good track with Ravelstein.He had set up this work to be a kind of Jewish-American Great Gatsby; the first person narrator, Chick, was the channel through which the reader explores Ravelstein, and through him, late 20th century America.Unfortunately, Bellow disposes of Ravelstein too early in the narrative.The work then becomes about Chick, his marriage and near death.In the end, there is the feeling that this novel veered off track; that Bellow made promises to the reader that he did not keep.

5-0 out of 5 stars Excellent

This freewheeling and lucid book charmed me to a higher place, as a man and as a reader.

5-0 out of 5 stars The Art of Dying
Ravelstein is the mentor, Chick is the acolyte/friend, although himself older than his mentor.Ravelstein is dying of AIDS as a result of a Dionysian life.Chick, later, almost dies from eating a toxic piece of fish that he doesn't care for in the first place, that is undercooked, that doesn't really taste good enough to eat.Yet he eats it out of expediency -- it's not worth complaining about; he doesn't want to make a fuss; it wouldn't matter anyway; there is nowhere better on this Caribbean island to eat.The way Chick approaches the fish is the way he lives his life and the way he ponders the afterlife (the fish is historically a biblical symbol of Jesus and the promise of salvation).A parallel is implied:is it better to milk life of all its worldly pleasures with little regard for personal consequences as Ravelstein does or to wander into one's fate as does Chick?To be a Ravelstein in death is better than to be a Chick in life is the conclusion that seems to be just below the consciousness and just beyond the reach of Chick.It is the conclusion he seems to fear making and which probably is the cause of his procrastination in fulfilling Ravelstein's wish for Chick to write his biography after his death.But this is about more than Chick.He is really the symbol for us all, the symbol of our age.Chick says of Ravelstein that "He was here to give aid, to clarify and move, and to make certain if he could that the greatness of humankind would not entirely evaporate in bourgeois well-being, et cetera."Yet Chick, as thoughtful and insightful and observant as he is, more closely embodies this bourgeois well-being than does Ravelstein despite his materialistic proclivities.Chick, despite being seriously ill, craves the comforts of home, ignoring the danger of dying if he doesn't get to a hospital quickly. This is as we crave life's comforts despite the havoc they wreak on ourselves and others, and nature.Comparing the interaction with nature of Chick and Ravelstein is revealing also.Ravelstein is a nature-phobe while Chick tries to embrace it, keeping a home in the country.But Ravelstein's mistrust of nature is more honest than Chick's courtship of it.As conscious and deep as Chick is, he can't fully connect with this or with the cheating of his ice-goddess wife or the Nazi past of one of the couple's regular dinner partners, or even his own near-death experience.His life evaporates in bourgeois well being.And ours?

3-0 out of 5 stars When Ravelstein dies, so does the book...
God bless the late Saul Bellow. Eighty-four years old and he wrote a better book than most authors in their "primes" could manage. (It's interesting to note some conspicuous repetitions in the text,--viz. the de trop description of Ravelstein's malformed feet--and to speculate whether Bellow's advanced age bears culpability. It didn't appear--to me at least--to be a stylistic choice, or in any way deliberate.)

It's a good book, not a great book, and it becomes merely mediocre once Ravelstein finally croaks from AIDS. It always remains readable, however, and it offers an inside glimpse into the milieu of higher academe, and the cult of Leo Strauss (a very influential philosopher at the moment). ... Read more

11. It All Adds Up: From the Dim Past to the Uncertain Future (Penguin Great Books of the 20th Century)
by Saul Bellow
Paperback: 352 Pages (1995-06-01)
list price: US$17.00 -- used & new: US$3.13
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Asin: 0140233652
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
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Saul Bellow, who will be celebrating his 80th birthday in June 1995, offers an eclectic collection of insightful views on a wide variety of topics, ranging from a tribute to Mozart to remembrances of friends such as John Cheever and Allan Bloom to myriad ruminations on his beloved city of Chicago. NPR sponsorship. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (3)

5-0 out of 5 stars 20th century man.
Saul Bellow has limitless intellect,although he would deny he is an intellectual. To him,intellectuals get bogged down in the cul de sac of ideologies;attempting to sort out societies problems and the meaning of life via philosophies infected by the mood of the times;philosohies that ignore mans endless desires of individualism,curiosity and the need to be free.Ideologies that just add further to the mess. Bellow looks for what is human through art and literature,which is a refuge for our soul. All of this beams through Bellows essays.He transcends mere intellectualism and operates on a higher plain.He has no desire to 'do the good thing' or appear 'liberal' if it means having to lie to achieve it.His clash with Gunter Grass-who unbeknown to Bellow and the World at the time had a rather nasty skeleton in his closet-comes to mind. Grass in his politics and self righteous ranting is given the moral high ground by using deception-by doing the right thing;appearing liberal.But as people like Richard Wright found of the 'liberal' North,the attitude was all hot air.The blacks were no more accepted there than the South.They were 'accepted' as long as they stuck to the black belt areas.That truth would have destroyed many a liberal;many a do gooder,as it was a reality they knew of but hid from view.Bellow lives in this area of revelation.
His recollections of Roosevelt,the war,Yom Kippur,Paris....all wonderful. This is a wonderful insight into the greatest mind of the 20th century.

5-0 out of 5 stars A vitality of ideas
Everything that Bellow writes has vitality. His fictional works are energized by ideas. His faith in literature and his devotion to his craft are unquestioning and are much evidenced in these essays. So are his great learning and committment to the world and life of the mind. I have always had trouble however understanding where Bellow 's overall view of the world really centers. My guess it is in the devotion to the writing life and not in any formal system of philosophical or religious thought, though I know he has been in some way connected with Rudolf Steiner's thought. In any case there is a richness of mind at work much insight in this work.

5-0 out of 5 stars A very valuable collection of essays
It All Adds Up, a collection of essays, written with Saul Bellow's great human insight, literary qualities and dry wit. Of course for everybody whom have read Herzog, Humboldt's Gift, The Adventures of Augie March andHenderson the Rain King should just run and get hold of a copy of thisbook, but honestly: anyone enjoying quality literature and are curious onlife, art, politics and about how one of America's greatest authors shareof his reflections and anecdotes, will probably enjoy this book. The onlycollection of essays I can think of, that come near this, is HermannHesse's My Belief. It is just such a pleasure to know, that in addition toBellow's novels, there exist a book like It All Adds Up. ... Read more

12. Mr. Sammler's Planet (Penguin Classics)
by Saul Bellow
Paperback: 288 Pages (2004-01-06)
list price: US$16.00 -- used & new: US$6.89
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Asin: 0142437832
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Mr. Artur Sammler, Holocaust survivor, intellectual, and occasional lecturer at Columbia University in 1960s New York City, is a "registrar of madness," a refined and civilized being caught among people crazy with the promises of the future (moon landings, endless possibilities).His Cyclopean gaze reflects on the degradations of city life while looking deep into the sufferings of the human soul."Sorry for all and sore at heart," he observes how greater luxury and leisure have only led to more human suffering. To Mr. Sammler—who by the end of this ferociously unsentimental novel has found the compassionate consciousness necessary to bridge the gap between himself and his fellow beings—a good life is one in which a person does what is "required of him." To know and to meet the "terms of the contract" was as true a life as one could live.At its heart, this novel is quintessential Bellow: moral, urbane, sublimely humane. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (39)

2-0 out of 5 stars A highwayscribery Book Report
"Mr. Sammler's Planet," makes the case for sticking with an author's big hits before delving into their more exotic offerings.

Saul Bellow, of course, is/was a famous writer whose big triumphs were "The Adventures of Augie March" and "Herzog."

highwayscribery decided upon "Mr. Sammler's Planet," thanks to its being mentioned in a column by David Brooks of the "New York Times."

In "Children of the '70s," Brooks sought to put a damper on recent enthusiasms for 1970s New York as a dangerous, but freewheeling and artistically sympathetic urban landscape that, on balance, was much better than the white flight and capital disinvestment that characterized it.

highwayscribery, who grew up in that New York, indulged just such a flight of fancy in his post memorializing the recently deceased downtown poet, Jim Carroll. (that's here: [...])

Brooks noted in his piece that, when the city tried slum clearance on the upper West Side, "Crime did not abate. Passivity set in, the sense that nothing could be done. The novel, 'Mr. Sammler's Planet,' by Saul Bellow captured some of the dispirited atmosphere of that era -- the sense that New York City was a place of no-go zones, a place where one hunkered down."


"Mr. Sammler's Planet," to the extent that it is about anything, fleshes out the post-Holocaust relationships between Jewish folk in New York: their mutual aid toward one another and the friendships forged by their unique and tragic recent history.

It is, briefly, about a pick-pocket Sammler watches and with whom he later experiences an unfortunate encounter. It is about the pending death of a close friend and benefactor. It is about his wacky daughter and her personal quest to make a father whose claim to fame is a long-ago relationship with H.G. Wells relevant to fast-changing times.

But these story threads are a skimpy skeleton upon which Mr. Bellow hung a lot of issues swimming around in his mind. It almost works until he gets into a discussion with Dr. Govinda Lal from whom his daughter Shula has stolen a manuscript.

The exchange is characterized by long-winded discourses from both men on the nature of things, which, to their minds, cannot be described in elementary terms. The two gents hold court with only the rarest authorial interjections to remind us these are characters talking and not just a stream of raw, unplugged Bellow.

The author was a Nobel Prize winner whose thoughts are novel and well-expressed. There is certainly valuable currency in "Mr. Sammler's Planet," but less of a story than one might expect from someone quite so celebrated.

Bring on "Herzog."

4-0 out of 5 stars Mr. Sammler's Planet is this Earth of war, crime, violent death but also love among people
Nobel Prize winner Saul Bellow's wrote this short novel in 1970. It deals with a few days in the life of the aged Polish scholar Mr. Artur Sammler. Sammler survived a mass burial during the holocaust during which his wife was murdered and he lost an eye beaten in by a gun butt. Sammler escaped to the West.He is retired and leaving in a rooming house owned by a Jewish German woman. Sammler is European in his lifestyle having trouble adjusting to the way things are done in the United States.
Sammler and his kooky daughter Shula (living apart from her brutal Russian-Israeli husband Eisen) live well in New York City. They are supported by the wealthy Dr. Gruden who is Sammler's nephew. Dr Gruner is a widower with two adult dysfunctional children. His two children are Angela who is a promiscuous self-centered femme fatale and Warren his brilliant but feckless son who enjoys wild exploits with planes and riding into Russia on a donkey and flys over residential houses in New Jersey in a small plane. He is always talking about ways to make a fortune. The book will end with the death of Dr. Gruner due to a broken blood vessel. His children are not caring of their father though Sammler is there to mourn the doctor.
The book's plot concerns Shula's stealing of a manuscript of the moon from a visiting Punjabi scholar Dr. Lal. She later becomes enamored of Lal and seeks to have him court her. Dr. Sammler has the manuscript located and returned to Lal after several mishaps.
Dr. Sammler is attacked by an African-American thief who exposes himself to the prim Pole. Sammler will later show compassion to this thief when the man is being beaten on a New York Street. Sammler had seen death in all its bloody incarnations during World War II. He killed a Nazi while hiding in the Polish forest where he was hiding in starvation. Sammler hid in a grave during the war being resurrected to life following liberation. He speaks with insight into evil in the human heart.
Sammler is working on a biography of H.G. Welles whom he knew in London prior to World War II He spends his days frustrated by the chaos, crime and American ways on display in New York.
The book is hampered by long philosophical discussions.Bellow is eager to display his opinions on a wide range of philisophical issues most pertinently those dealing with death, sex and man's inhumanity to man.
The book uses sexual imagery and crude language on the lips of its wealthy and upper middle class characters. Bellow is good at describing characters. Mr. Sammler reminds one of Pere Goriot in the Balzac classic who is subject to the decline of his family and their callousness to parents, tradition and faith. None of the characters is without major flaws including Dr. Gruder who did abortions for Mafia figures.
This short novel is worth reading in our age of terrorism and violence worldwide. Bellow is a wise sage of modern culture.

4-0 out of 5 stars "Mr. Sammler's Planet" by Saul Bellow
Typically perplexing Bellow fare. His interverted conduit here is Artur Sammler, an aging Holocaust survivor living in New York City. Mr. Sammler is wise, acute, and painfully observant of the twisted humanity that surrounds him in the great city. Plot-wise the story is typically thin; a black effete pickpocket flashes Mr. Sammler, a close friend is slowly dying in the hospital, and he has to deal with recovering a professor's manuscript about H.G. Wells that his daughter had stolen for his sake. However, the book is intensely internal and neurotic. The overall theme of the book is of society spoiling our planet, and the whistful desire to shoot from a rocket somewhere else in the galaxy, clean and untouched, and begin again. Bellow writes prose that is oftentimes turgid and almost unreadable, but there are of course moments here and there of astounding beauty. Sammler's final conversation with Professor Lal in particular, where Sammler is finally able to articulate his thoughts, is equal parts dense, dogmatic, and absolutely shimmering. Read it for yourself, but prepare yourself for a challenging trip.

3-0 out of 5 stars Bellow par Bellow
Mr Sammler's Planet was a novel written when Bellow was in the midst of an acrimonious divorce from one or other or his wives and as a result is tainted by a nasty seam of misogyny which prevents the full actualisation of his female characters. Mr Sammler himself is a delightful fictional creation - an elderly old world intellectual at sea in the mid 20th Century America with its bitter currents of violence and primacy of harsh capitalism. The other characters are not Bellow's finest - in particular the women, portrayed as predominantly fickle creatures, with many odours, slaves to their sexual appetites and always in need of primping and binding themselves.

For a stronger take on the battle between ideas and modern culture in the American 20th Century, look at Bellow's much stronger 'Humboltd's Gift' which takes on similar themes but works them into a masterfully mature big canvas novel of 1970s Chicago.

3-0 out of 5 stars Coherence is better than psychoanalysis!
I started reading this book when I was 18 and picked it up again a couple weeks ago.

It is just as well as at 55 I can much better appreciate it than I could have at 18.

The book shines when it condenses into two or three sentences women, the diaper revolutionaries and especially for me the pan of psychoanalysis.Many of these things I have arrived at myself over the years and it was wonderfully heartening to hear them in this book.

There were parts of the books where Bellow launches into deep complex philosophisizing that are frankly opaque and tiresome...I finally started to skip over some of them.

Also the part about the Hindu scientist just seemed to show Bellow didn't know much about Hindus and 3rd world countries. Lal was an unbelievable character--French literature and all.

But the other characters were beautiful and wonderful...the genius moron and the sexed out daughter and Shula.

Coherence is better than psychoanalysis any day I agree Bellow! A good read. ... Read more

13. Saul Bellow: Novels 1944-1953: Dangling Man, The Victim, and The Adventures of Augie March (Library of America)
by Saul Bellow
Hardcover: 1029 Pages (2003-09-15)
list price: US$35.00 -- used & new: US$15.45
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 1931082383
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Saul Bellow's rare talent has not only earned critical accolades, including the Nobel Prize, it has also made his books perennial bestsellers. Now, in a historic collector's edition celebrating the 50th anniversary of the classic The Adventures of Augie March, readers will rediscover the novels that laid the foundation for Bellow's towering career.

The comic tour-de-force The Adventures of Augie March (1953) introduced to American literature a startlingly original expressiveness-uninhibited, jazzy, infused with Yiddishisms and Depression-era voices. Ebullient irony bears Bellow's prose aloft. March comes of age in a Chicago bustling with characters as large and vital as the city itself, and his travels abroad lead him through love's byways and the disappointments of vanishing youth. Martin Amis calls it "the Great American Novel" for its "fantastic inclusiveness, its pluralism, its qualmless promiscuity. . . . Everything is in here."

Bellow's sparer first two novels possess a more Flaubertian precision. Dangling Man (1944) penetrates the psychology of a jobless man's anxiousness as he awaits draft orders. The Victim (1947), an increasingly nightmarish story of one man's extraordinary claims on a casual acquaintance, explores our obligations to others and the unfathomable workings of chance.After a half century, Bellow's earliest novels remain as fresh, incisive, and entertaining as ever. Included in this edition are helpful notes and a chronology of the author's life. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (5)

5-0 out of 5 stars Saul Bellow in the Library of America
Saul Bellow (1915 -- 2005) was born in Canada but was smuggled into the United States at the age of 9 by his bootlegging father. He spent his youth on the poorer Jewish streets of Chicago.Much of Bellow's writing is autobiographical in character and combines his rough-and-tumble early city life with his great erudition and thoughtfulness. Among much other recognition, Bellow received three National Book Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, and the Nobel Prize in 1976.

The Library of America has published two volumes of Bellow's novels, the first of which includes the three novels written between 1944 and 1953 and the second of which includes three novels written between 1956 -- 1964, including "Seize the Day", "Henderson the Rain King", and "Herzog". I am reviewing the earlier volume here which includes "Dangling Man", "The Victim", and "The Adventures of Augie March."

When he became famous, Bellow distanced himself from his first two novels, describing "Dangling Man" as his M.A. thesis and "The Victim" as his Ph.D. But these novels are worth reading in themselves and in showing how Bellow both developed the themes in these early works while also breaking away from them.The two early books are studies of alienation and loneliness in an urban environment, pitting the "outsider" against the broader "society."They are heavily influenced by Dostoevsky and by existentialism.In "Augie March" Bellow emphasizes humanism, exhuberance, and the ability each person has in determining the course of his or her life.

"Dangling Man" (1944) is a short novel told in the form of the diary entries of its protagonist, Joseph.The novel sold poorly but marked the beginning of Bellow's high reputation with literary critics. It tells the story of a young man waiting for induction into the service. The induction has been deferred because of draft board mistakes and because of Joseph's status as a Canadian. During the time Joseph is left "dangling" he loses his job and is supported by his wife Iva. Although Iva encourages her husband to use the time given to him to further his strong interests in reading and writing, Joseph is unable to do so.He stays alone in his room for long periods, quarrels with his wife, family, and friends, and carries on an affair. Joseph seems to accept the necessity of the war effort and wants to come to terms with American society and its commercialism.Yet he remains an outsider.When the call to induction comes finally, Joseph responds with alacrity and relief, leaving behind a possibly failing relationship with his wife. The novel speaks to me about the difficulties of individual freedom and of being alone with oneself.

In "The Victim" (1947), Bellow examines loneliness and alienation in New York City following WW II.This novel again sold poorly, but it was made into a play which ran off-Broadway for a brief time in 1952. The protagonist is a Jewish man, Asa Leventhal, who works as an editor and is estranged from his family.His wife is out of town during a hot summer, leaving Asa alone.Leventhal is increasingly bothered and stalked by an old acquaintance, Allbee, who believes Leventhal was responsible for getting him fired and for his descent into poverty when Leventhal allegedly retaliated for Allbee's anti-Semitic remarks. Besides his increasing difficulties with Allbee, Leventhal becomes involved in the life of his Catholic and Italian sister-in-law whose young son is dying. "The Victim" is a story of guilt and paranoia with considerable emphasis on the strength of anti-Semitism in post-war America. The novel is tightly if formulaically constructed.

In the sprawling, exuberant picaresque novel "The Adventures of Augie March" (1953) Bellow found his own voice and recieved the first of this three National Book Awards. The book is told in the voice of its narrator, Augie, and it spans Augie's early life in Depression-era Chicago to Augie's mid-life following WW II. Much of the book involves Augie's relationship with his older brother, Simon, who is first in his high school class, marries into a wealthy family, and becomes highly succressful.But Augie must find his own way.His family also includes an old woman who lives with the family and who functions as its "grandmother" or matriarch, a weak mother who was abandoned early by her husband and who Augie never sees, and a feeble-minded brother, George.

At the outset of his story, Augie proclaims himself "an American, Chicago born", and he reflects that the story of his wanderings and experiences will illustrate the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus's dictum that "character is fate."Augie has a series of long and rollicking adventures, legitimate and illigitimate, beginning with his work for a scheming Chicago insurance man and swindler named Einhorn. Later, he helps his brother Simon who has become the owner of acoal-yard. Augiemeets and has affairs with many women of varied social backgrounds. He studies and reads voraciously but never finishes college.Augie's wanderings take him to Mexico in the company of an eccentric wealthy woman, with whom he is in love, for whom Augie trains an eagle in an futile effort to catch lizards. During WW II, Augie enlists in the Merchant Marine and, when his ship is torpedoed, he spends days adrift in the mid-Atlantic with a crazy scientist. Ultimately, Augie marries one of his flames, an actress named Stella, and seems to learn something of the nature of love.His life still remains an adventure and an unfinished project.

A small incident illustrates the humanistic character of Augie March and the hope it offers for the individual. Late in the book, in post-War Italy, Augie meets an impoverished Italian woman who offers to show him sites for a fee. Augie says he does not want a guide, because "people" come to him all the time; and he offers the woman a small sum.The woman responds""People! But I am not other people.You should realize that.I am.... This is happening to me." (p. 974)Throughout this book, Bellow offers a vision of the individual and his or her value.Augie's life, in large scale, and the Italian woman whom I have discussed in small scale, show that people can fight and succeed and make something of life that they want. The book is a melange consisting of a vision of America and its promise, of taking and making one's opportunities in life, and of the value of literature and thought in making life worth living."Augie March" is a diffuse wordy book full of both street-toughness and long philosophical reflections. If not the great American novel, it remains an extraordinary book.

This LOA edition includes sparse notes to the texts prepared by James Wood together with a useful chronology. It offers an excellent way to read the early works of a great American novelist.

Robin Friedman

5-0 out of 5 stars The opening novels of an American Master
The 'Library of America' has wisely chosen to present the reader with the major works of Bellow.The three works presented in this opening volume are his firstnovels, and include his breakthrough book. "The Adventures of Augie March". This is the book which put Bellow on the literary map in a big way. Its famous opening," I am an American, Chicago born" was the introduction to a long vital comic romp in which the adventures of character and plot are complemented , or rather invigorated by the play of ideas.
My own preference is not for the works presented here, but rather for the middle aged Bellow of "Seize the Day" and "Herzog".
Yet for anyone interested in tracing the overall development of Bellow these novels are essential.

4-0 out of 5 stars Cannot Recommend as a Starting Point for Bellow
I am a Bellow fan and have read most of his novels.

In case you are new to Bellow, his novels reflect his life, his writings, and his five marriages during his five active decades of writing. He hit his peak as a writer around the time of "Augie March" in 1953 and continued through to the Pulitzer novel "Humbolt's Gift" in 1973. He wrote from the early 1940s through to 2000. His novels are written in a narrative form, and the main character is a Jewish male, usually a writer but not always, and he is living in either in New York or Chicago. Bellow wrote approximately 13 novels plus other works. Bellow progressed a long way as a writer over the five decades. The early novels "Dangling Man" and "The Victim" were written 25 years before his peak. Those were heavy slow reads. "Dangling Man" is often boring, and Bellow was in search of his writing style in that period of the 1940s. Some compare his style in "Dangling Man" with Dostoevsky's "Notes from the Underground." Having read both I would say that "Notes" is brilliant while "Dangling Man" is at best average and sometimes a bit boring.

That brings us to the present book: "Novels from 1944-1953." I am a Bellow fan, and when I started I bought the present book first. In retospect that was a mistake, because this collection hashis two worst novels. "Augie March" is his first big novel, but "Dangling Man" - is among his worst. Even Bellow himself was critical of that novel in later years. I prefer almost any of the later novels such as the masterpiece "Herzog" or "Humbolt's Gift" or "Mr. Sammler's Planet" or his last book and light read "Ravelstein." Some disagree and think that his early works are compact, well written, and his finest works. As a general reader, I thought the 1960s and 1970s works were much better and so did most critics. Bellow thought his best and most difficult to write book was his 1964 masterpiece "Herzog."

This is not the starting point for a Bellow reader.

3-0 out of 5 stars "The Victim"
Bellow, Saul, The Victim. 1947. New York: Library of America, 2003.
This novel, Bellow's second to be published, is more of a "head" piece than "Dangling Man" or "Augie March." Asa Leventhal, the thickset, serious-minded copy editor whose wife is seemingly forever out of town, has a weak ego and an even weaker coping mechanism for stress. He is talked into believing that he once injured a now-drunken friend of a friend while at a party, a character named Allbee, who stalks him, accuses him of ruining his life, belligerently invites himself into Leventhal's apartment, and demands all sorts of favors to "clear the slate," all the while slinging anti-Semitic shots from his supposedly superior social position as a descendant of the New England Puritans. Why Leventhal puts up with this is the problem of the novel, and none of his friends can figure him out. A subplot concerning the illness of a young nephew, and some back story, fills out the book. I sympathized with Leventhal but criticize Bellow for never bringing him really to life. What I found more enjoyable were the descriptions and scenes of New York in the 40s, set in a Gatsby-like unending heat wave and bringing back memories of my first trip there in 1949. But that's just something that satisfied me and it isn't enough.

5-0 out of 5 stars Undisputably worthy of recognition and respect
Bellow: Novels 1944-1953 collects three novels by renowned author Saul Bellow: "Dangling Man"; "The Victim"; and "The Adventures Of Augie March". These three literary works distinguished Bellow as a great writer of the postwar era and set the groundwork for his intellectual pursuits. Exploring the human psyche, the brutal vagaries of chance, coming of age in the harsh Depression era, and more, these enduringly popular novels have stood the literary test of time and are undisputably worthy of recognition and respect. Published on non-acid paper specifically necessary for a "shelf life" of many decades, Bellow: Novels 1944-1953 is an essential part of any academic or community library collection. ... Read more

14. Henderson the Rain King
by Saul Bellow
Paperback: Pages (1959-01-01)
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Asin: B000WY5VOO
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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4-0 out of 5 stars Henderson: The Saul Bellow Man

Gene Henderson, Ivy Leaguer,war hero,millionaire has everything an aspiring American can want,but he feelssoul-less in this world.It drives him nuts, he explodes at the least provocation, He yearns for the real,to live andgoes in search of it in deepest Africa....
I've often read that Gene Henderson appears in many guises in many Bellow novels;the anti hero who has achieved the middle American dream only to be disallusioned by the phoneyness and emptyness of it all; a seeker of the reality that must exist under it all, ever with a streetwise crack. And being a great fan of Bellow's and having read a dozen or so of his works, indeed, Henderson is the Saul Bellow man that I've met a few times before!
In one sense it meant that Henderson' lacked a bit of freshness that I would have savoured more fully had I read this first, but on another level it serves to wonderfully underscore Bellow's take on 20th century life, something that never tires or fails to both entertain and provoke thought. A truly great nobel winner. ... Read more

15. Seize the Day
by Saul Bellow
Paperback: Pages (1961-07-10)
list price: US$1.65 -- used & new: US$41.94
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Asin: 0670000914
Average Customer Review: 2.0 out of 5 stars
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cover design by Bill English ... Read more

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2-0 out of 5 stars An American masterpiece
This is Bellow's most perfect work. Its tale of Money , Madness Murder Machine is yet another take on the Willy Loman small business -man- tragedy theme. Tommy Wilhelm the hero of the book is s a struggling , divorced father of two temporarily living in the same hotel in Upper West Side Manhattan that his father, the successful and mean, Dr. Adler permanently resides in. The action is contracted into a few days in which Wilhelm who has invested his last money with the dubious healer, brilliant crackpot Dr. Temkin , sees this money and his hope of rescue, disappear.
The work captures the spirit of a certain kind of West- Side New York Jewishlike culture. It has hilarious and brilliant portraits of minor characters, like the small- time agent Maurice Venice who has guided Wilky's brief film- career to disaster. It is rich in the philosophy of failure and success, of desperate hope and search for deliverance.
Its final scene in which the broken- Wilkie comes by accident upon a funeral cortege and begins weeping uncontrollably - isa tremendously powerful one. Bellow builds the Wilky character beautifully, his heavy mind and heart 'sinking' to the ocean- floor like the Lycidas whose elegaic lines learned in high- school re- echo deep within himself.
For every human being who has striven and failed, who has known what grief is , this masterpiece will be a wrenchingly moving tale. ... Read more

16. The Victim (Classic, 20th-Century, Penguin)
by Saul Bellow
Paperback: 272 Pages (1996-03-01)
list price: US$16.00 -- used & new: US$8.73
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Asin: 0140189386
Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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Bellow's second novel charts the descent into paranoia of Asa Leventhal, sub-editor of a trade magazine. With his wife away visiting her mother, Asa is alone, but not for long. His sister-in-law summons him to Staten Island to help with his sick nephew. Other demands mount, and readers witness a man losing control. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (14)

4-0 out of 5 stars Very worthwhile early novel from Bellow.
There is such a pervasive, realistic feel of a bygone, downtown, mechanically oriented, pre-electronic era to this early Bellow work that it might easily be dismissed as an anachronism which is irrelevant to our modern lives. The fact that the Jewishness of the protagonist, Leventhal, plays a very prominent role in his experience of life might also contribute to this sense of irrelevancy to non-Jewish readers.

Either of these reactions, if indulged, would be overlooking the greater story hidden within Leventhal's seemingly mundane, somewhat austere existence. A patient and reflective reading, I believe, will be rewarded with an emerging understanding, that even though this is a very literal story rooted in the pragmatic considerations of a stolid-appearing protagonist, consumed with the minor and major problems of both professional and private affairs, there are compelling and universal themes just below the surface which transcend the ideas of minorities and majorities, whether of race or attitude.

Bellow has tipped us off before he even begins his story, in the two introductory quotations he gives. The first, from the 'Thousand and One Arabian Nights' is an example of unintentional guilt and its sometimes terrible consequences. The second, from 'The Pains of Opium' by Thomas de Quincy, speaks of a vision of humanity as an ocean of "innumerable faces, upturned to the heavens...imploring, wrathful, despairing...that surged upwards by thousands, by myriads, by generations."

None of us are as guiltless as we would like to imagine, nor are we as isolated, whether we imagine that isolation to be from privilege or from oppression. Each of those innumerable faces in the ocean of humanity imagines itself separate, not realizing that it is a particle composed of the same basic substance as all the others, each particle contributing to and subordinate to the totality or cosmic unity. These seem to be the two basic themes which the pragmatic, unwilling, non-intellectual Leventhal has to come to terms with, not through abstract philosophical speculation, but by facing the challenges of getting a living, dealing with family and social relations, and enduring the consequences of his own actions.

Under Leventhal's impassive exterior, feelings of guilt, self-doubt, and a general suspicion that things in general might not be as clear as they seem, provide a setting in which something extraordinary might happen. And, in fact, the extraordinary does happen. Suddenly, like a bolt out of the blue, an old acquaintance intrudes into Leventhal's already burdened existence, demanding restitution for an old grievance.

Does the accuser, Allbee, have a legitimate claim against Leventhal? Leventhal furiously denies that Allbee has any grounds for expecting anything from him. The fact that Allbee has a tendency to make sly, disparaging remarks about Jews, and is also a drunk, would seem to divest him of credibility. Unlike Leventhal, who had struggled to find a position in life, Allbee had been born into privilege, but was now fallen into the dregs.

However, Allbee manages to sink his grapples into Leventhal like a true parasite, and exploit the incipient guilt already there. Against the will of his host, Allbee insinuates himself ever deeper into his affairs until he becomes more than a nuisance. He is a menace who must be dealt with. But, ironically, Leventhal grudgingly begins to see some truth and justification to the claims of Allbee, and perhaps even begins to feel some common ground of humanity with him. The collision of these two particles, Leventhal and Allbee, is as ambiguous as a collision of particles in quantum physics. After the collision, they each move to a different psychic energy state, and are somewhat transmuted in their makeup.

The metaphysical drama in which these two main players partake is solidly grounded in a literal and realistic depiction of life as lived in a very particular time, place, and cultural setting. The impressionistic descriptions of the light and color of the cityscape are sometimes beautiful, and make a significant contribution to the overall mood of the story. Though perhaps lacking in the stylistic achievements of his later work, 'The Victim' is a subtle, thought-provoking, and highly original accomplishment of a young author.

4-0 out of 5 stars Guilt and Alienation in Post-War New York City
In a Guggenheim Fellowship application in 1945, Saul Bellow described his then work-in-progress, "The Victim" as "a novel whose theme was guilt."He worked assiduously on this novel between 1945 - 1947 when it was published to poor sales.In 1952, a stage version of the book ran briefly off-Broadway.

"The Victim" explores modernist themes of guilt, loneliness, purposelessness and paranoia in the lives of its main character and his strange double.The book is set in a sweltering New York City summer following WW II.The primary character, Asa Leventhal, works as an editor for a trade paper where he has an uncomfortable relationship with his boss. He is a non-practicing Jew highly conscious of anti-Semitism. Leventhal has had a difficult life with a mother who went mad during his childhood and a distant father. He has an older brother, Max, from whom he has long been estranged. Leventhal left a civil service job in Baltimore after an engagement apparently ended, and he endured difficult months of poverty in New York City before finding a position.When the book opens, Leventhal is alone in the hot New York summer.The broken engagement ultimately was restored, and Leventhal's wife Mary is away for several weeks visiting her sick mother.

Leventhal endures a difficult summer.He is approached, and virtually stalked, by a man named Kirby Allbee whom he had known briefly years earlier.At a party both men attended, Allbee had made anti-Semitic comments to Leventhal.But Allbee used his influence to get Leventhal a job interview with Allbee's then-boss. The interview proved disastrous as Leventhal lost his temper. Allbee, who was a marginal worker at best with a drinking problem, was then fired. Allbee's drinking problem grew worse, his wife left him and soon died, and Allbee became penniless and unemployed - the fate that Leventhal himself had narrowly escaped.Allbee blames Leventhal for his troubles - with the implication that Leventhal deliberately insulted Allbee's boss during the interview to retaliate against Allbee for his anti-Semitism -and seeks his help. Allbee becomes ever more persistent, stalking Leventhal in his daily routines, following him to his flat, moving in, rummaging through Leventhal's drawers and effects, carrying on a brief affair in Leventhal's bed, and ultimately trying to kill himself in Leventhal's kitchen.

Leventhal has other problems of guilt as well.His brother Max has married an Italian Catholic woman, Elena, who lives in Staten Island with two children and an aging mother.Max himself is in Texas looking for work.When Elena's younger child becomes gravely ill, she calls Leventhal. Leventhal tries to reach Max who is unable to return before the child dies.Leventhal fears that his brother's wife and her mother somehow hold him responsible.With prejudices of his own, Leventhal is troubled that his brother has married a non-Jew and finds Elena and her mother superstitious and primitive. During the course of the book, Leventhal and his brother take modest steps to improve their estranged relationship.

Both Leventhal and Allbee are lonely outsiders and one-time members of the class whom Bellow describes as "the lost, the overcome, the effaced, the ruined." The book seems to me heavily influenced by Dostoevsky and by existentialism. Allbee reminded me of Melville's character Bartelby in the famous short story. The novel explores the nature of personal responsibility. It is a study of pervasive, if somewhat repressed anti-Semitism not only in Allbee but in the business world of New York City as well. But Bellow also shows Leventhal's own prejudices, his willingness to think the worst of Allbee and his distrust of his brother's Italian family. The book suggests that guilt, loneliness and redemption can be overcome by friendship. love and purpose.

This book is tightly written and constructed, unlike its successor, the long, diffuse and exuberant "The Adventures of Augie March."As with much of Bellow, the story is framed with many philosophical reflections and discussions, between Leventhal and Allbee, and between Leventhal and his friends.The lonely life on city streets, park benches, cheerless flats, and cheap restaurants plays a dominant role in this early novel is it does in Bellow's later works. But the writing in "The Victim" seems to me formulaic. The scenes which Bellow would later fully bring to life here sometimes tend to fall flat. The book is serious and thoughtful, but it does not move well.

Late in life, Bellow distanced himself from this book and from its predecessor, "Dangling Man", by calling the former novel his M.A. and "The Victim" his Ph.D.This is an accurate if overly-harsh assessment. This book will have its greatest appeal to readers who are seriously interested in Bellow and his themes.

Robin Friedman

5-0 out of 5 stars Captivating
How responsible can one person be for the fate of another? Kirby Allbee ("be-all"=Everyman) thinks that Asa Leventhal is to blame for his losing his job, his wife, and his drinking. Allbee appendages himself to Levanthal's life, taking money from him, moving in, opening his mail - even going to Levanthal's apartment to attempt suicide. Both feel victimized by the other (and allow it to continue), and both are victims of the outside oppressive world (Bellow captures perfectly the NYC summer heat that adds to the blanket of oppression). The novel reminded me of Herman Melville's "Bartleby, the Scrivener," in an inverse way, in Bartleby's refusal to accommodate himself to his employer's wishes while the employer keeps surrendering to Bartleby's passivity; in both novel and story the "innocent" protagonist becomes the victim of the other (and, in a sense, vice-versa). THE VICTIM is one of Saul Bellow's best novels, gripping from beginning to end.

2-0 out of 5 stars An annoying read
Like another reviewer, I picked this novel up with the intention of broadening my literary horizons. Unfortunately, I found The Victim to be an extremely unlikable read, so much so that I had to force myself to finish it.

The novel is about a Jewish man, Asa Leventhal, who, while his wife is away, encounters an old acquaintance who both accuses Asa of ruining his life and demands Asa to make them "even." Concurrently, Asa encounters family troubles when his estranged brother's family has a crisis.

Through Asa's dealings with the old acquaintance, questions arise as to the nature of luck and blame in American life. Is an individual solely responsible for achieving success? Can others be blamed for an individual never achieving that desired success? Is everyone born with the same ability to achieve success, and if not are some people simply lucky?

These seemingly valid questions were not what I was thinking of as I read this novel. Mostly, I was disappointed by the unlikable characters and oppressive mood of the novel. Asa plays the curmudgeonly Jew perfectly, constantly lamenting being a Jew and noting how he is treated unfairly by his Christian counterparts. While sometimes his woes are valid, at other times he seems simply paranoid. His former acquaintance, Kirby Allbee, is the anti-semite that feels wronged. He's presented as a drunken manic, constantly spewing vitriol while still expecting to be given something for his suffering.

The mood, created by the hot summer setting, the loneliness from Asa's wife being away, the tense, and the angry quality of Asa and Allbee's dialogue is horrendous. It was stressful simply reading this novel, because the characters experienced so much stress. I'm not saying that every novel needs to be as light as Jane Eyre, but ugh... this was simply not a pleasure to read!

5-0 out of 5 stars Haunting
This is the story of Asa Leventhal, a magazine editor living alone one summer in 1940s New York while his wife is away taking care of her widowed mother. One night he is accosted in a park by Kirby Allbee, a slight acquaintance whom he has not seen for several years. The anti-Semitic Allbee has visibly come down in the world, and holds Leventhal responsible.

A parallel plot concerns Leventhal's sister-in-law who is alone in Brooklyn with her two sons. While Leventhal's brother pursues business interests in Texas, Leventhal attempts to act as a surrogate father.

This is a book about responsibility, community, maturity and Jewish/Christian relations in America. We see Leventhal transformed from an insecure, self-absorbed, blame-shifting individual, to a self-confident and compassionate man of action. There are some deft touches of humor, and the evolving relationship between Allbee and Leventhal is complex and fascinating.

I strongly recommend this book. ... Read more

17. Saul Bellow's Fiction (Crosscurrents/Modern Critiques)
by Irving Malin
 Hardcover: 192 Pages (1969-03-01)
list price: US$8.95
Isbn: 0809303442
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Saul Bellow is perhaps the most important living American novelist. Bellow has produced a significant body of work— mature, human, imaginative—which will be read fifty years from now. By approaching his writings vertically, in depth, through detailed discussions of themes, characters, styles, and images, Malin guides the reader toward vital insights into Bellow’s fictional kingdom. Mr. MaIin is frank and sensitive in his discussions of Bellow’s fiction. He points up both flaws and assets and lays the foundation for students of literature, particularly of contemporary literature, to build on.


... Read more

18. A Sort of Columbus: The American Voyages of Saul Bellow's Fiction
by Jeanne Braham
 Hardcover: 168 Pages (1984-04)
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Asin: 0820306908
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19. On Bellow's Planet: Readings from the Dark Side
by Jonathan Wilson
 Hardcover: 193 Pages (1989-02)
list price: US$24.50
Isbn: 0838632025
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20. Dangling Man (Penguin Classics)
by Saul Bellow
Paperback: 160 Pages (2006-09-26)
list price: US$15.00 -- used & new: US$7.79
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Asin: 0143039873
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Expecting to be inducted into the army, Joseph has given up his job and carefully prepared for his departure to the battlefront. When a series of mix-ups delays his induction, he finds himself facing a year of idleness. Bellow’s first novel documents Joseph’s psychological reaction to his inactivity while war rages around him and his uneasy insights into the nature of freedom and choice. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (16)

3-0 out of 5 stars Work
Not much action; this is a character study looking at a man (Joseph) who finds himself out of work, and in a state of administrative "limbo" for several months after the Army loses his records. (hence the "dangling") If pressed to state a theme for this book, I think it would be the basic human need to have meaningful work in one's life. This doesn't necessarily mean professional work (as Joseph's materially successful older brother, Amos has); it might mean charitable work (as seen with Joseph's neighbor, when she nurses the sickly old landlady). The longer he remains in a "holding pattern", Joseph becomes more restless and anguished. His self-esteem declines, he becomes insecure, combative, and dissolute (cheating on his loving wife, Ida, with promiscuous Kitty). Resolution only comes at the end, when he is finally inducted into the Army, and cheerfully faces the dangers and uncertainties of war, grateful that his direction and purpose have been restored. Bellow may have overstated things here to make his point, but I agree with the overall idea I think he was getting at.

Dangling Man feels a lot like The Catcher in the Rye, if Catcher had met up with Holden Caulfield at age 28 instead of 16... A disillusioned young man, feeling seperated from the world around him, wanders around a big city (Chicago this time), struggles with frustrations with the shortcomings he sees in his friends and family, and stews about the materialism/phony-ness/(insert other societal complaint here) of modern civilization. Overall, Dangling Man isn't a bad book, but it isn't nearly as engaging as Catcher.

4-0 out of 5 stars Dangling Man
Saul Bellow published his first novel, Dangling Man, in 1944.The protagonist is a young draftee, Joseph, who is waiting to be inducted into the army during World War II.He has resigned his position in the expectation of being inducted, so he has a lot of time on his hands while he waits. He hopes to indulge his love of books but, now that he has almost unlimited time to read, he finds that no book can hold his interest.Mostly, he mopes around a room in a boarding house that he and his wife rent with her salary.

Joseph is a sensitive person, and his alienation leads him to an uncomfortable awareness of the defects of his acquaintances and the ugliness of the physical artifacts of a large city.Ugliness is only recognized when it is contrasted with beauty, of course, and Joseph can still recognize love (for his wife) and physical beauty where he finds it.One evening, he reports that: "We had an enormous sunset, a smashing of gaudy colors, apocalyptic reds and purples such as must have appeared on the punished bodies of great saints, blues heavy and rich.I woke Iva, and we watched it, hand in hand.Her hand was cool and sweet."

Eventually, Joseph becomes unhinged by solitude and idleness, and he lashes out at family members and acquaintances.He finds that he must "give himself up" by requesting that the army induct him "at the earliest possible moment."On his last day before reporting to basic training, he rejoices at the prospect of being occupied:

"Hurray for regular hours!
And for the supervision of the spirit!
Long live regimentation!"

Few first novels are perfect, but this is a very good one.One might observe that Bellow more effectively conveys Joseph's problem to the reader when he does so indirectly.A couple times he has Joseph deliver soliloquies about the "invariable question" that occupies him; I reread these a number of times but found them incomprehensible.Nonetheless, I enjoyed this brief novel tremendously.

4-0 out of 5 stars Difficult Freedom
Saul Bellow's short and first published novel "Dangling Man" (1944) explores broad themes of community and alienation in the words of a self-centered young man awaiting induction into the Army in 1942-43 during WW II. The book sold poorly but it established Bellow as a writer of promise. The story is set in Chicago and is told exclusively by means of diary entries of the protagonist, who is identified only as Joseph, between December 15, 1942, and April 9. 1943. As befitting diary entries, most of the book is recounted in the first person. But in several places, Joseph tries to study and describe himself and speaks of his life in the third person. In diary entries late in the story, Joseph holds lengthy philosophical discussions with an alter-ego.

Joseph is 27 years old and a Canadian citizen. As the book opens, issues of citizenship have delayed Joseph's induction into the Army for seven months, during which he becomes the "dangling man" belonging neither to civilian nor military life. During this time, Joseph leaves his job working for a travel bureau.He is supported by his long-suffering wife of five years, Iva. He becomes increasingly resentful of his dependency on his wife.With their economically marginal situation, Joseph and Iva have given up their modest but reasonably comfortable flat for a squalid rooming house. Joseph expresses his disgust throughout the book for his landlord and landlady and many of the cotenants.

As his diary entries reveal, Joseph had tried before he saw himself as the dangling man (which in fact had been his situation throughout his life) to create a balance between his work and his interests which are largely intellectual and scholarly. For a brief time, Joseph had been a communist.He left the party and his former comrades shun him. He tries to think through the nature of American society and its relationship to individualism.When Joseph loses his job, Iva encourages him to read and to pursue his writings on the Enlightenment and on Romanticism.But with his restlessness and his new-found if precarious liberty, Joseph is unable to do so.He sits for long hours in his room unable to do anything, takes short walks for meals, has an affair, fights with his family and former friends, and he broods.

In one of several scenes of fighting in the book, Joseph and Iva visit his brother Amos, his wife Dolly, and daughter Etta for New Years.Amos has made a financial success of his life and presses Joseph to accept financial help which he proudly refuses. During the catastrophic New Years dinner, Joseph refuses his brother's offer of a holiday gift of cash. More tellingly, Joseph finds himself in a highly-compromising, sexually charged situation with his brother's daughter.Other fights with former friends and colleagues occur througout the book as part of Joseph's inability to decide what to do with himself.

Joseph wants to accept and function in American society and not to pursue the criticism and rejection which was common among intellectuals then and remains so today. He supports, however tentatively, the war effort and tries to make his peace with capitalism and materialism. These efforts are unsuccessful as Joseph cannot avoid his stance as an alienated outsider.Joseph finds he cannot make use of the freedom with uncertainty that has been offered to him as the draft board finally resolves Joseph's status. At the end of the book, Joseph is about to be inducted, facing an uncertain future with his wife and family, and the induction comes as a relief to him from his own purposelessness.

Although set in Chicago, Bellow's novel is heavily influenced by the themes of European philosophy and existentialism. Dostoevsky's anti-hero in"Notes from the Underground" is a predecessor of Joseph. Joseph is also preoccupied with the writings of Goethe as an attempted counter-balance to his own situation.

As in much of Bellow's later writing, "Dangling Man" juxtaposes scenes of American toughness and street life with long passages of philosophical reflection. The themes of alienation and liberty presented in this book cut deeper than the specific situation that confronts Joseph. As a narrator, Joseph is solipsistic and narcicistic.He also dislikes women. A disturbing tone of subtle racism underlies the book. Although short, the book drones on at times and lacks the sparkle of Bellow's later writing. Still, "Dangling Man" is a thoughtful and ambitious novel that captures something important about freedom and the American dilema.

Robin Friedman

5-0 out of 5 stars A trial, but a rather silly one.
I made a terrible mistake in my first reading of Dangling Man.Hailed as one of the great works to come out of World War II America, I figured that it was great in the conventional way that war novels are great.My expectations were horribly violated by the book's form (it is a journal) and by the subject matter (a man in the doldrums because of bureaucratic and self-imposed inaction while waiting to be drafted).I was not expecting an existential mediation on the human condition conducted on that most bland of World War II fronts--the American home front.

Because of this violation of expectations, I was initially put off by the book.This was ultimately extremely wrong- headed.The genius of this work lies in how it uses the vast historical background of the war and unemployment to show Joseph, the fictional journal keeper, descend further and further into his own personal short-comings, narcissism, and irascibility.A mixture of pessimism and comical farce, the reader of the work is privy to the inner workings of a personality that is watching its degradation.

We find at the journal's opening that Joseph has been awaiting conscription for several months.Initially believing that he was to be mobilized within several weeks of his initial notice of mobilization, Joseph had left his regular work-a-day life behind him in order to concentrate on putting all his affairs in order.Government bureaucracy interceded to make this much more complicated than it otherwise should have been.Because of his Canadian nationality and because of certain completely reasonable regulations, Joseph found himself in a position that would have been familiar to many of his generation only a few years before during the Depression; out of work and with a lot of time on his hands.

A somewhat bookish and highly intellectual person, Joseph and his infinitely patient wife Iva, both welcomed the free time as a chance for study and as an extended vacation.As time wears on though, and it really wears on Joseph, he develops not only an intelligent critical viewer of friends, family, the war, and society, but also an unbearable wretch as he goes further and further into himself.Every disgusting personality trait that Joseph possess becomes exacerbated and almost beyond his control.To many readers of this work in 1944, this would have resonated with their personal experiences with political and economic redundancy, or with what they saw occur in their families and communities during the Depression.For Joseph though, this would have to much more alienating than it would have been for him just a few years before.During the Depression, it was plain to see that if you were unemployed, you were part of a vast multitude of the like.With full employment during the war, the opposite would have been true.Joseph really is alienated from the mainstream of America.

Although Joseph's irrational side is what we are first exposed to, his insights into what America is and is becoming because of the war and the prosperity it is bringing in its wake are, from the perspective of the early twenty-first century, nearly prophetic.The very hard learned lesson of the depression, that what is good for the wealthy is not necessarily good for the country and ultimately not even the wealthy, is fading fast from even the memory of small business owners like Joseph's tailor acquaintance, Mr. Fanzel.After long period of economic marginality, Fanzel is up to his ears in orders.Abandoning not only his poverty, he has also abandoned much of his human feeling since his time has become valuable beyond any previous comparisons.His outlook on life is best summed up in Joseph's opening reflection in the journal entry he recounts a recent conversation with him: "Look out for yourself, and the world will be best served." (109) His thinking are a blandly frightening caricature of everything that went wrong with America before the Depression--this includes a positive reference to a newspaper piece by the disgraced President Hoover that argued for more war profiteering.Joseph sees in Fanzel's behavior a great amount of rationalized selfishness that would allow Fanzel, and any others that conformed to his way of thinking, to accept human degradation as moral, if not a necessity. This is a sentiment Joseph can not abide, and its growth does not bode well for the post-war history of America.

What is truly terrifying to Joseph though is the thought of being a bystander.Not only of being bystander during the war, but of being a bystander period.He remembers as traumatic experiences that he had as a child when his mother died and nightmares where he was forced to take a powerless position in the wake of a massacre.These are just some of the extreme cases of where he feels himself impotent.He feels and sees the entire world going about him, without him and without need--though there is plenty of regard--for him.Joseph is not at home with feeling doubtful or is any good in the morally ambiguous circumstances the war has given birth to.As a supporter of the American war effort Joseph is ambivalent enough and honest enough to say that "between their imperialism and ours, if a full choice were possible, I would take ours.Alternatives, and particularly desirable alternatives, grow on imaginary trees." (84)Joseph's need to end his status as a bystander will eventually overtake some of his ambivalence about the war, but I would be giving away a great deal if I explained how.Joseph unfortunately gives in to a need for regimentation that the rest of the country is allowing itself to be subjected to as necessary to win the war.It is sad to witness, especially since this comes at the books end.

Joseph's recounting is comic-opera in many instances.The lack activity that he tries to accustom himself to leads into extreme tension and hyper-sensitivity.He constantly feels his dignity insulted by the actions of those around him and as far as he is concerned no can do right.Joseph had some lousy personality traits prior to his period of dangling--he was a know-it-all Communist, an adulterer, and something of a brawler--but in the eleven months that he is waiting to be called to duty, he becomes an out and out prick.He is unwilling to accept either his friends, families, or wife's personal foibles while he expects them to all tolerate his meanness and irritability.He is slowly but surely turning into a hypocritical and petty man, incapable of compassion for anyone but himself.He describes his brother's wife after giving him a very mild reproach for spanking their daughter as finding her "farther on the hellward side than ever." (78)He denounces his wife and all women in general, as naturally given to frivolity and not teachable simply because Iva has not bent totally to his will. (98)At one point early on in the book he even makes a huge seen in a restaurant, embarrassing a friend when a former comrade from the Communist Party that he abandoned does not acknowledge.Joseph is bent on picking fights wherever he can find them, and to recount all of them would be redundant.The book makes obvious that if Joseph is not descending into madness, he is at least descending into silliness and absurdity.

One sees in this book all the aspects of intellect and personal struggle that will characterize Bellow's novels and short stories during the more than half-century after this work's publication.In Dangling Man we are given the very ordinary situation of a man living in a burdensome situation trying to use his intellect as guide to get closer to a proper way of living. The war as background is extraordinary, but the situation is anything but that.

5-0 out of 5 stars High-Quality Existentialist Novella
Some consider this novella Bellow's worst piece.At the other extreme, it has been compared to Dostoevsky's "Notes From the Underground".I am in the latter camp."Dangling Man" might not strike chords quite as high as Dostoevsky's "Notes", but it's at least in the same ballpark.The April 8 and April 9 entries (the book is written in journal form), on the last two pages of the book, bring everything home, and put this book among the top ten of existentialist fiction.

For those who may have read a full-length novel or two of Bellow's, and found it/them overly heavy and tortured, try his early novellas, especially "Dangling Man". ... Read more

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