Books by Saul Bellow

Released: March 31, 2015

"This comprehensive collection illuminates Bellow's sense of his own identity and his changing world."
A nonfiction collection celebrates the centennial of Saul Bellow's (1915-2005) birth. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 1, 2001

"One for the permanent shelf."
With the passing of Eudora Welty, our only living Nobel laureate remains virtually unchallenged as America's greatest writer of fiction (Roth, Mailer, Updike, Oates, and perhaps a handful of others). This welcome tributory volume includes eleven stories reprinted from three earlier collections and the recent novellas A Theft and The Bellarosa Connection (though not, oddly, the vigorous 1997 novella The Actual, nor Bellow's undisputed masterpiece in the form of Seize the Day). A warmhearted and revealing Preface by (Mrs.) Janis Bellow and critic James Wood's appreciative Introduction lead smoothly into such rarefied pleasures as an early urban fable about identity and its elusiveness ("Looking for Mr. Green"); ironical accounts of an intellectual's confrontation with his own emotional coldness ("Mosby's Memoirs"), a failed attempt to reduce a conflicted family's sprawling history to verifiable data ("The Old System"); and a bittersweet memory of youthful folly, insensitivity, and stunned awareness set in a wonderfully realized Depression-era Chicago ("Something to Remember Me By"). At their (frequent) best these richly imagined and scrupulously written fictions offer a lavish display of Bellow's verbal brilliance, flair for idiosyncratic characterization, and unmatched (except perhaps by Faulkner?) lyrical comprehension of the rhythms of changing and aging. Read full book review >
RAVELSTEIN by Saul Bellow
Released: April 24, 2000

The Nobel laureate's first full-length novel in more than a decade (since More Die of Heartbreak, 1987) is a pungent intellectual drama that's short on plot but contains some of the sharpest, most provocative writing of his long and honorable career. The narrator, identified only as "Chick," is an elderly writer who relates—in a vigorous mixture of narrative, speculation, and reminiscence that sparkles with zesty combative dialogue—the story of his friendship with (the somewhat younger) Abe Ravelstein, a charismatic professor of political science who has become an international celebrity mage ("He interpreted Rousseau to the French, Machiavelli to the Italians, et cetera"), and authored an inexplicably bestselling "summa" of his ideas. Ravelstein, homosexual and dying of AIDS, has urged Chick to write a memoir of him. Their lives are intertwined in various ways (Chick's young second wife Rosamund, for example, was Ravelstein's prize student). But Chick is conflicted, knowing how much they also differ: he's a receiver of sensory impressions, an ontological observer for whom the physical world is a gift we spend our lives unwrapping; Ravelstein is an unregenerate theorist who insists men live guided by "rational principles" (despite overpowering evidence of his sensual appetite). Only after Ravelstein's death, when Chick himself nearly dies from a perversely "accidental" neurological illness, does the acolyte (for such he surely is) come closer to understanding the extent to which his hectoring "teacher" has also been his scourge, Platonic "other half" (seeking union), and conscience. Bellow tangles these lives and worldviews together brilliantly, in an essentially static drama that vibrates with paradoxical wit and submerged (though almost physically intense) feeling. It's mostly talk—but what talk! This is a novel that grabs you by the neck and forces you to think, and rewards you with a dazzling insight or superbly turned phrase or sentence on virtually every page. The work of a master, who has lost none of his unique ability to entertain, enthrall, and enlighten. Read full book review >
THE ACTUAL by Saul Bellow
Released: May 1, 1997

Nobel laureate Bellow's recent penchant for the novella (A Theft, The Bellarosa Connection, both 1989) continues with this witty portrayal of late-life intrigue, politicking, and passion. Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 1994

Bellow (Something to Remember Me By, 1991) makes it seem—in his introduction to these essays, addresses, interviews, and journalism pieces—as though he'd been reluctantly corralled into collecting them. And in truth, the individual entries are tied together more by the supple richness of Bellow's wonderful prose than by any greatly compelling worldview. The novelist/recorder/stylist in him always wins out here over the historian of ideas. Maybe the best piece, for its fidelity to place and time and sense of possibility, is the most unlikely: a brilliant, clever, full-hearted consideration of Franklin D. Roosevelt in which Bellow taps into the vein of American optimism and argues that the can-do bravado of Roosevelt is sorely lacking from contemporary American life. Equally fine (if slightly crowing) is a jaundiced dismissal of the mid-century New York intellectuals (the Partisan Review crowd et al.) as having been mere consumers of ideology who always needed to have the latest model of theory in their intellectual garages. The journalism here—reports from Spain, Paris, Israel, Vermont, Tuscany—is light-footed and companionable if hardly inspired. The public addresses (including Bellow's Nobel peroration) are much doughier items; and a pair of later interviews have some nice balletic turns amid flashes of ego that can be a little cloying. But for all his foibles and old ax-grindings, Bellow remains one of the most interesting, if slippery, figures in our literature. Sheen and fascination come off of every page. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 3, 1991

In 1989, both in paperback original, appeared Bellow's hundred-page-or-so novella A Theft, followed a few months later by The Bellarosa Connection, which came in at about the same length. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 10, 1989

Hard on the heels of Theft (1989), another Bellow 100-pager in paperback original: this time the tale of one Harry Fonstein, saved from the Holocaust by the underground organization of Broadway impresario Billy Rose (Bellarosa, to the wartime Italians), then later cold-shouldered by the show-biz celeb himself. Having fled the Nazis from Poland to Italy, Fonstein finds himself mysteriously wafted from a Rome jail cell to end up, by a subtle and devious route, endowed with an American wife named Sorella (overweight, a teacher of French) and living successfully as a businessman in New Jersey. Naturally enough, Fonstein wants to meet Billy Rose and express his gratitude ("I owe him my life"), but his calls aren't answered, he's turned away at the office, and once—at Sardi's—he's forcibly prevented from approaching the man himself. Fonstein may or may not be resigned to such unnatural rebuffs, but his persistent wife Sorella certainly isn't. In 1959, she and Fonstein are vacationing in Jerusalem when the rich and famous Billy Rose is there also—dedicating a memorial garden. The obese but passionate Sorella has brought with her the wildly incriminating secret diaries of a disgruntled (and deceased) staff member of Rose's—with which she confronts him, threatening publication if he won't agree "to sit down with my husband for fifteen minutes." Result? No go. Billy Rose won't budge ("Remember, forget—what's the difference to me?"). A moment of laugh-aloud comedy ensues, yet nothing changes: Rose won't see Fonstein, people's lives go on. The narrator of the story—a shirttail relative of Fonstein's who has become rich by running a memory institute in Philadelphia—tries to get back in touch with Fonstein and Sorella 30 years later, casting doubt on his own thesis that "memory is life" and peering into an abyss that the high-rolling Billy Rose ("Tiny, greedy, smart") just may have seen long before him. Subtle, complex, and tricky, a wry-toned look deep into gloom: fine, vintage Bellow in the shorter form. Read full book review >
A THEFT by Saul Bellow
Released: March 28, 1989

The big news about Bellow's new novella (just a bit over 100 pages long) is that it is being published from the start as a paperback—a rare move for a blue-chip writer. The book itself is less momentous: one episode (ostensibly pivotal) in the life of "the czarina of fashion writing," steadily intriguing and crisply told yet oddly lacking in resonance and conviction. Clara Velde, "a rawboned American woman," part Indiana and part uptown Manhattan, has begun middle age in good shape: triumphant career, three darling daughters, and a tolerable fourth marriage (to handsome, ineffectual Wilder). But Clara has never quite accepted the dead-end status of her long relationship with Ithiel "Teddy" Regler—a foreign-affairs expert to presidents (never quite at the Kissinger level) who married other women, wasn't even monogamous in his philandering, and once drove Clara to the brink of suicide. So, when Clara can't find the longtime symbol of Teddy's passion (a valuable emerald ring he gave her), she is deeply upset. Especially since she's convinced that the ring has been stolen by the shady boyfriend of the Velde children's beloved nanny: comely young Gina from Austria. And Clara finds herself facing a series of ethical dilemmas as she tries simultaneously to recover the ring, judge Gina's behavior, reassess the importance of her passion for Teddy. . .and take stock of her own strengths and weaknesses. Bellow works hard to invest this anecdotal material with Jamesian layers of morality and psychology; there's even an explicit attempt to make the doomed Clara/Teddy affair a metaphor for world politics. ("We have the power to destroy ourselves, and maybe even the desire, and we keep ourselves in permanent suspense—waiting.") But Clara, whose dialogue often slides into stagy rhetoric, remains more an assemblage of striking attitudes than a fully drawn, believable character. (The sketching-in of her role as "attentive mother"—which becomes crucial at the finale—is particularly flimsy.) And Bellow's readers will have to be satisfied with the very substantial page-by-page pleasures of his narration: the dry wit, the edgy intelligence, the severely elegant prose, and the easy mastery of viewpoint, time-frame, and voicing. Read full book review >
Released: June 15, 1987

"You have longings, the male Eros does that to you; you take the sexual path and it leads you into lewdness, lewdness opens up into insanity, a world of madness rushes at you full face." This, for narrator Kenneth Trachtenberg, 35, assistant prof of Russian literature, is the "pain schedule," the "unique ordeal" for brainy, refined men in 20th-century America: men with "the privilege of vision," men with no "gift"—but lots of yearning—for love and sex. And Bellow's new novel—Kenneth's rambling, often richly comic monologue—details the agonies that come when two such men insist on seeking love (in a world where Eros is debased) instead of settling for exquisite isolation. Kenneth's primary focus is on his beloved Uncle Berm, renowned botanist and esteemed professor at a Midwestern university, a man of epic mind and soul: "He had the magics, but as a mainstream manager he was nowhere." So, despite protective maneuvers by Kenneth, widower Benn has recently fallen into "a succession of sexual miseries": seduction by an alcoholic divorcee neighbor; near-entrapment by a freaked-out, jet-setting former beauty; and now—impetuous marriage to "glittering, nervous" Matilda Layamon, social-climbing daughter of a rich, crass local doctor. Living with his pushy new in-laws in their palatial duplex, passive Berm is out-of-place, cut off from his resonating plant-world. Matilda—whose allure has always had a menacing aspect (her wide, thin shoulders remind Berm of Tony Perkins in Psycho drag)—spends half the day asleep, the other half planning her grand salon (with Benn as social bait). Worst of all, the greedy Layamons prod Benn—against all his finer instincts—into raking up an old family quarrel: Great-Uncle Vilitzer (a corrupt city power-broker, now 80, ill, in legal trouble) once cheated Benn and his sister (Kenneth's mother) out of a real-estate fortune. While recounting Benn's degradation (and ultimate escape), however, Kenneth also broods on his own turmoil as the unsexy, academic son of "a father with a world-historical cock." Kenneth's ex-girlfriend lives in Seattle with their child, spurning his obsessed wooing, preferring rough-stuff lovers. Meanwhile, since women too "die of heartbreak," Kenneth's platonic friend Dita (who has bad skin) undergoes awful plastic surgery in an attempt to increase her desirability to him. The provocative socio-sexual ideas on display throughout—the brain/body split (cf. Bellow's story "Cousins"), the futility of love, the "fallen state" of humankind—don't hold up well under incessant repetition without development; Kenneth—part authorial alter-ego, part figure-of-fun (pompous and prim)—is an unsatisfying novel-length narrator, ambiguous yet flat. Often, in fact, this seems to be a dense short-story or two, stretched out to 336 pages—winding down to mild denouements (which are heavily foreshadowed) instead of barreling towards them. (All too aptly, Kenneth likens his speculations to "a stationary bicycle.") Still, there are great chunks of fine, funny Bellovian rhetoric here (that aphoristic blend of scholar and stand-up), along with enough sporadic narrative zing—amused, appalled vignettes worthy of a Jewish-American Balzac—to compensate readers for the longueurs and overall puffiness. Read full book review >
Released: May 30, 1984

"Unfortunately, the longest piece here—the novella-length 'What Kind of Day Did You Have?'—is the least successful: the affair between a youngish divorcee and a famous old art critic becomes an uneasy frame for wrestlings with Marxism, celebrity, and intellectual hucksterism. But much of this welcome gathering presents the restless Bellow voice in full cry—taut, colorful, Talmudic, and large-hearted.?"
Family fiction and the fiction-of-ideas: these are the two competing concerns in Bellow's recent work—with the combination at its most problematic in his last novel, The Dean's December. Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 7, 1981

Rich yet dry and static, Bellow's somber new book (his first as Nobel laureate) is often more essay than novel: a wintery meditation on death—a death in the family, the death of American cities, the death of the planet—as filtered through the mind of Albert Corde, one of Bellow's least vivid or particularized alter egos. Former full-time journalist, now dean at a Chicago university and devoted husband of astronomer Minna, Corde spends this December in Bucharest—where Minna's beloved mother Valeria (a government Health Dept. official who fell out of favor) is dying in a state hospital. And this very life-sized death—height-ened yet softened by the family's fierce love for Valeria—unnerves Corde as he first tries to break through the hostile Bucharest bureaucracy (hospital visits are cruelly restricted), then helps to handle the unlovely details of Valeria's funeral. But, throughout, more of Corde's mind is on the wrangles he has left behind in Chicago, both of which involve his Jeremiah-an (arguably racist) view of dying American society. There's the trial of two blacks for the iffy murder of a student—a trial which Corde pressed for despite his radical nephew's noisy opposition. (Moreover, another crude relative—cousin Max—is the colorful defense attorney at the trial.) And there's the brouhaha over Corde's articles in Harper's, nakedly realistic articles which paraded the horror of US cities (Chicago in particular), the "doomed" future of the "black underclass," the moral bankruptcy of the media and academia. ("Liberals found him reactionary. Conservatives called him crazy.") One reader, however, is powerfully impressed by the articles: an eminent scientist who has made some startling findings ("Crime and social disorganization in inner city populations can all be traced to the effects of lead") and wants Corde—who's intrigued but dubious—to bring this lead-is-killing-the-planet message to the world at large. Thus, Bellow here (as in Mr. Sammler's Planet) puts death under a microscope that has a slippery magnifier: the focus slides from personal to cosmic and back, with due notice of the drawbacks involved in this sort of whole-earth existentialism. (Minna snaps: "I tell you how horrible my mother's death is, and the way you comfort me is to say everything is monstrous. . . ." Corde answers: "The only excuse is that I'm convinced it's central. That's where the real struggle for existence is. . . .") But, while all of Bellow's later novels have thrived on just such a tension between philosophical discourse and juicy portraiture, this time the juice is sternly monitored, with only brief, occasional flarings-up of comic, scene-making brilliance. And, though Corde does reluctantly consider the self-destructive psychology behind his dour doomsday-crusade (an old chum, now a slimy syndicated columnist, analyzes Corde's behavior, then stabs him in the back), the character is neither fully-fleshed enough nor dramatically propelled enough to stand apart and free: the recurrent feeling that Corde is merely the author's mouthpiece (there's a strange ten-page slip into the first-person at one point) provides a provocative, but ultimately unsatisfying, subtext. Finally, in fact, apocalyptic sociology seems not to suit Bellow (as it suits, for instance, Walker Percy): the novel picks up more of the "hot haze" of Corde's angst than the sharpness of his uncompromising world-view; the issues don't bring forth the essential Bellovian passions. But, if this is lesser Bellow, it certainly displays all his paragraph-by-paragraph greatness—the gravely exuberant, not-a-word-wasted style; the wide-ranging powers of observation; the Talmudically restless intelligence. And every page of it commands the attention. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 25, 1976

Bellow goes to Israel in 1975—not to see the sights, but to talk, listen, and learn—and returns drenched in issues ("the facts are coming out of my ears") and keen on sharing his radar-oven exposure to the crossed wires (Israeli, Arab, Russian, American) that keep the Middle East just this side of all-out conflagration. The journey itself supplies only a feathery structure and relatively little in the way of travelogue commonplaces: a planeful of wildly willful Hasidim, communings with Mount Zion and the Dead Sea ("here you die and mingle"), a wander through the Old City in search of ancient baths. Two poets, a barber, a masseur, and a child violinist offer charming cameos, but politicians and professors are the main attractions; there are intense question-and-answer sessions with Prime Minister Rabin, Abba Eban, Arab moderate Elie Kedourie (a London stop-over), and, inevitably, upon return, a date with Mr. Kissinger. Each acquaintance, occurrence or vista—from a grapevine arbor in the Greek quarter to a Chicago taxicab ride—triggers a free-associative dive into Bellow's vast "personal Israel syllabus": dozens of books, articles, white papers, and remembered interviews. The elegant paraphrases of political arguments slide into personal and literary reflections. Balzac, Baudelaire, Faulkner, Joyce, and Tolstoy hover over Jerusalem. But the real problems aren't muted by the slightly incongruous erudition, the gentle ironies, or the ever-surprising, pleasing phrasing. The West Bank, Russian and French anti-Semitism, valid Palestinian claims, and the all-important future of American Mideast policy; Bellow is overwhelmed—and occasionally rendered naive or tedious—by the seriousness of what you discover "when you leave your desk and enter life." The outing to Jerusalem and back earns him no peace of mind, and responsible readers have tough work ahead if they want to share the expedition's dry rewards. Read full book review >
HUMBOLDT'S GIFT by Saul Bellow
Released: Aug. 25, 1975

As a critic once observed: "The language is the character and the action. To say that Herzog is written in the first person would be like saying that Genesis is written in the first person. The voice is the whole case; it contains everything." Even if, as now, we sometimes stop listening. And even if—to take it a step further—the character is always to a large degree Bellow, while the action (let him describe it) is "cantankerous erroneous silly and delusive objects actions and phenomena." In two words, energized chaos. Humboldt, he of the gift, was a "culture-Jew," poet, trickster, genius with a passionate gift of gab and intellectual grandiloquence. He was also a noble man who had attained prominence in the '40's only later to decline not only in terms of fame but physically. Humboldt, with his gin, pills, and his own innate highs and lows of increasing intensity, was institutionalized in Bellevue toward the end and finally dropped dead, alone, in a seedy hotel. His protege, heir and bloodbrother is Charlie Citrine who tells this so-called story: Citrine who wins a Pulitzer and also knows the "glory and gold" which attend success; Citrine who has been divorcing his wife for a beautiful girl who pussywhips him; Citrine who becomes involved with a second-string underworld godson and all kinds of manipulative shenanigans; Citrine who gyrates all around the world; Citrine who is left the "gift"—an outline for a movie script which will net a great deal of that gold. Throughout of course there are some of Bellow's central concerns: the sense of destiny which is never far from the abyss; that "for self-realization it's necessary to embrace the deformity and absurdity of the inmost being (we know it's there!)" and Humboldt knew better than anyone that it is there; that light—light which is talent or inspiration or gift—receding in the last years when "the dark turned darker" and death becomes an almost daily presence. Bellow writes continually in the recognition of approaching death—both seriously and less so. There's a marvelous piece on our burial malpractices down to "short sheeting" with the legs up. But Humboldt/Citrine/Bellow, however well he talks, talks too much. The novel sprawls in a picaresque fashion without the humor of Herzog or the humanity of that nice Mr. Sammler. Still if one is left with ""a kind of light-in-the-being"" that can overcome the terminal terror, it will represent underachiever Humboldt's great achievement. Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 1, 1974

"O'Gorman and Bell make this a worthwhile volume — the others beat dead horses (automobiles?)."
They're still hacking away at that tired subject, technology. Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 30, 1969

"Bellow has generally been considered our most intelligent and palpably stylish writer; beyond that there's the marvelous intellectual agility and animation; and of course the swaggering comic spirit which keeps Sammler, like Herzog, so triumphantly alive."
Mr. Sammler's planet will be terra firma to all Bellow admirers. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 28, 1968

Six very various short stories, involving life styles and searches of one kind or another. Only in the title story are there some of the abrasive, dissonant vibrations of Herzog, as an elderly and quite parched professor on a Guggenheim remembers and ruminates, trying "to avoid the common fate of intellectuals," spooked by aspects of his own death in life. A scientist, Dr. Braun, views himself and reviews his past via two cousins and a feud which ends with an extortionate deathbed forgiveness; an old woman of 72, obdurate, scrappy, cheerful, careless, finds that everything she still has (not much) is as worthless as she is; a white clerk delivering relief checks faces the solidarity of silence when "Looking for Mr. Green" in a Chicago Negro Slum, and an American, searching for "The Gonzaga Manuscripts"— of a dead Spanish poet — confronts another closed society. "A Father-to-Be" the least successful, finds a young man and good provider overwhelmed by his responsibilities. . . . .In none of them, except the first, is Mr. Bellow at his assertive best, but the stories are catchy commentaries on life, enlivened by Mr. Bellow's shrewd and sympathetic intelligence. Read full book review >
HERZOG by Saul Bellow
Released: Sept. 21, 1964

There are two things we can say. Many feel Bellow is the best novelist of his generation, or at the very least, the best stylist. Herzog is not one of his best novels. It is, however, irritatingly impressive, and a very crucial work in the canon. It looks backwards and forwards. Something of Seize the Day is here- the Levantine honesty; something too of Henderson's nervy brilliance; and something quite new: the hero, an intellectual schlemihl, a professor of philosophy, a searcher trying on the masks of comedy and tragedy, seems to be an alter ego, as if Bellow were on a trial run, getting rid of the more subjective kinks for a forthcoming Major Leap. And that might explain the self-indulgence which inhabits the book, and a particular strategy-charming, funny, educative, boring- whereby Herzog is kept writing letters to the great or near-great, past and present, from Nietzsche to Ike. The plot is as cluttered as a case history: married twice, cuckolded by his best friend, romancing hither and thither, Herzog engages in numerous journeys both through his own mind and the worlds of New York, Chicago, Montreal. He contemplates murder, remembers the Jewish experience, takes the temperature of the metropolis (Bellow is of course a master at evoking alienation), meditates as an open-ended scholar, a self-conscious lover: "But what do you want, Herzog?" "But that's just it- I don't want anything." Characters dart in and out, for the most part, like the dialogue, demandingly, dexterously real; the details are splendid. In the end wry, whipped Herzog (I will do no more to enact the peculiarities of life. This is done well enough without my special assistance) has no messages for anyone. He will presumably, Just Live. Bearing an odd-shaped resemblance to the Henry of Berryman's Dream Songs, Herzog sums-up prevalent mood: a Chaplinesque acceptance of the end of ideals. It should be read. Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 23, 1959

The National Book Award winner's first full length novel since The Adventures of Augie March is as bursting with life and energy as that fascinating book and has an even more absorbing hero. Augie was an observer, moving on the edges of other people's lives. Henderson involves himself in life over and over again- with disastrous results to others. A huge man in every way- in body, mind, emotion, spirit, strength, suffering, love of life- and a bum and an American millionaire to boot, Henderson at fifty-two is still driven and leaves his second wife and their twins and his children by his first wife. He heads into the heart of uncivilized Africa. His experiences with two dissimilar tribes and particularly with the king of the second, Dahfu, bring him to terms with his own nature and to an understanding of reality.... In spite of enthusiasm for the book as a whole, there may be certain reservations about a series of episodes- supposedly central to the final revelation in which Dahfu expounds his belief in the influence of animals over humans- and tries to have Henderson absorb the aura of a lion. This all seems a partly comic, partly pathetic, partly preachy enigma. Nevertheless, this is a powerful, funny and moving book that shouldn't be missed by anyone seriously interested in the American novel. Read full book review >
SEIZE THE DAY by Saul Bellow
Released: Nov. 15, 1956

Bellow's curious new admixture (a long short story, several shorter, and a play) stands midway between the Kalkaesque Dangling Man and the vital, tragicomic Adventures of Augie March. The title piece, a truncated novelette which is heavily introspective, concerns a New York Jew who has failed miserably in marriage, as he longs for love and respect from his proud physician father, and earns a livelihood as a salesman and investor. During the moment of recognition he realizes that his life, dependent as it is on the past, is a futile anachronism. Complementing this is a story reminiscent of James' Aspern Papers: a young fancier of a great poet travels to Spain in search of unpublished writings and discovers that the pressing facts of the immediate world must override any literary sentiment. The driving need of a social worker to deliver a relief check becomes, in a vivid, skillful piece, an expression of the anonymity of the poor and the importance of human identity. The best of the three short stories tells of a lover's vacillating emotions, and conveys how the grossest and the pettiest calculations in all people are inseparable from their capacity for goodness and humanity. A playlet concludes this dissimilar collection and suggests new avenues for Bellow's several talents. For a more selective audience, a provocative collection of incidental pieces. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 18, 1953

This is a wonderful book, if wonderful still means full of wonder. It has more conventional virtues as well. Mr. Bellow has taken a legendary time in the United States- the twenties and the depression, and a city, Chicago, that was a legend in that time and set his Ulysses to learning life there. But this is an American legend and an American hero and the author has taken Augie, either in person or his friends, through almost every American experience of the period- slum life, high life, organizing unions, riding the rails, selling paint, grooming dogs, student, thief, etc. as well as lover, friend and a most human human being. The people surrounding him are no less varied and rich in qualities. Through it all Augie moves trying to find his individuality and his destiny. Power after power reaches toward him, or touches him, and teaches him more about himself. It is a book of extremes and superlatives — rough, funny, sad, wild, tender, vulgar, pure- written in a style that is a mid point between stream of consciousness and conversation- as though Augie were thinking to himself in words..... A gorgeous job, with an enormous impact- both intellectual and emotional- which critical attention and publisher pressure may help to carry to the big market. Read full book review >
THE VICTIM by Saul Bellow
Released: Nov. 19, 1947

Again a book on the theme of anti-semitism, but here is merely a fragmentary presentation without force, about which is woven a plot of nightmare quality. When Asa Levinthal is held responsible by Kirby Allbee, (whom he knew but casually and disliked because of his strong anti-semitism) for the loss of his job, Asa reluctantly finds himself in the role of his brother's keeper. Alcoholism was at the root not only of the loss of the job but of the subsequent break with his wife, and Allbee again makes Asa feel responsible, to the point of Asa's becoming a victim of his own conflict. Eventually Asa reaches a more objective attitude, and breaks the false hold Allbee has taken. A story of New York today- in general introspective, thought provoking, but with the focus on the idea rather than the people, who are little more than lay figures. Read full book review >
DANGLING MAN by Saul Bellow
Released: March 1, 1944

Diary of an interlude — as Joseph, undergoing the whimsies of his draft board, spends several months of contemplative inactivity while waiting for his letter from the President. This is a self portrait of a disgruntled intellectual, or aspirant to intellectualism, a former Communist sympathizer, as he broods in his room, increasingly on the defensive, increasingly critical of his old friends, his wife, his stuffed shirt brother. He quarrels mentally and morally with the issue of going to war; he accepts with a certain relief his induction notice which relieves him of independent thought. An unsympathetic figure as portrayed; not very satisfying reading. Read full book review >