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THE LIFE OF SAUL BELLOW

LOVE AND STRIFE, 1965-2005

Though sometimes overly detailed, this is a top-notch exploration of one of the most important midcentury writers.

Leader (English Literature/Roehampton Univ.) concludes his exemplary life of the famed Canadian-American writer whose literary successes were matched by familial psychodramas, feuds, and other such mishegoss.

As the author picks up from The Life of Saul Bellow: To Fame and Fortune, 1915-1964 (2015), the subject of his biography has attained great fame and fortune. Henderson the Rain King (1959) has had five years to make waves, building on earlier books such as The Adventures of Augie March and Dangling Man, and now Herzog (1964) is out, nearly universally hailed and climbing the charts, “supplanting John Le Carré’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” on the bestseller lists. At the time, however, Bellow was not satisfied. Having established himself as a top-flight novelist, he tried his hand at a play that ran for only a month and received some of the toughest reviews of his career, along with a note from Lillian Hellman that Bellow summarized as “I’ve written a lot of interesting soliloquies, but there’s not a play in sight.” Undaunted, Bellow returned to prose with a vengeance, putting into practice his pronounced habit of taking every element from real life and conversation and working it into his fictional narratives. Leader ably charts Bellow’s continuing evolution as a writer, which will cheer his fans: Bellow matched talent, after all, with an impressive work ethic. Less cheering are his relationships with children, lovers, and spouses, all of which involved considerable drama and, even on his deathbed, shouting and recriminations. His cantankerousness punctuates almost every page, as when he explodes in anger over a companion’s going off to see a popular movie while he attended his son’s wedding: “By eroding the standards of a wide literate audience,” Leader glosses, “M*A*S*H was debasing as well as debased." Always hard at work and always in battle mode, Bellow emerges as a brilliant writer who never minded being disliked—and offered many reasons to do so.

Though sometimes overly detailed, this is a top-notch exploration of one of the most important midcentury writers.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-101-87516-2

Page Count: 784

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2018

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NIGHT

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

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INTO THE WILD

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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