Mikics has done a fine job uncovering how Bellow made art out of life, and he has given us a new way to approach that art.

How to access the novels of Saul Bellow (1915-2005) via the people he knew and loved.

Looking over the titles of Bellow’s novels, one notices how many include the names of their main characters: Augie March, Henderson, Herzog, Sammler, Humboldt, and Ravelstein. He was a character-driven novelist. As Mikics (English/Univ. of Houston; Slow Reading in a Hurried Age, 2013, etc.) notes in this “personal” approach to Bellow’s novels, he stayed true to what he saw as the “novelist’s highest purpose: to make people he had known and loved even more real, and more lasting.” Sure, every novelist draws upon real-life people for characters, but, Mikics argues, few “have ever given us such a wealth of…funny, passionate, overwrought people.” He feels Bellow rivals even Dickens in his “power to locate us through observation, to explain how appearances tell who we are.” Mikics selects 10 people who were important in Bellow’s life—friends, family, wives, sworn enemies—to show how each influenced his portrayals of some of his “pungent, unforgettable personalities.” Morrie, his older brother, shows up as Simon in that “explosive, shaggy picaresque” that is The Adventures of Augie March. Bellow made him a “rough apostle of life” instead of the “thwarted ogre that Morrie actually was.” Two of Bellow’s best friends make appearances in Henderson the Rain King. The African King Dahfu is Isaac Rosenfeld, who died young, while Chanler Chapman, who was also for a while his landlord, is Eugene Henderson. Chapman “lived in the present with gusto, never plagued by the shadows of failure that clung to Rosenfeld.” Mikics also shows how in Herzog, Bellow fictionally dealt with his wife Sondra’s affair with his good friend Jack Ludwig. Such literary lights of the time as Delmore Schwartz and Allan Bloom make appearances as Humboldt and Ravelstein.

Mikics has done a fine job uncovering how Bellow made art out of life, and he has given us a new way to approach that art.

Pub Date: May 24, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-393-24687-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 27, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016


The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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