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An old friend acts from the grave to give a gentle but resilient middle-aged intellectual an opportunity for triumph over all that makes his life seem staid and superfluous. 13 cassettes.
Posted January 9, 2010
Humboldt's Gift breaks open Saul Bellow's interior world. Charles Citrine is an intellectual fallen on tough times who, despite a deep love and appreciation for literature and knowledge, seems unable to apply it meaningfully to cope with his troubles. Citrine becomes more involved with arcane crank metaphysical and epistemological theories than he does with the dissolution of his marriage and his career, and is dragged through the dirt by a powerfully erotic and compelling young woman.
The novel, however, doesn't just tell us about the lives of an eccentric few. The relationship between America's cherished values and the art it has produced come under close scrutiny; the role of the artist in a culture bent on economic growth and financial success is one of the novel's central themes. Moreover, the novel is also a work of beauty. The relationship between Citrine and his deceased literary mentor, Humboldt Von Fleisher, is unearthed throughout the novel and is resplendent in its subtlety and nuance.
Posted March 28, 2006
This is one of the greatest American novels of the XX century: I have confirmed it myself after reading and rereading it. And as it's expected with a major work like this, many have complained about it. Really I have nothing to criticize this book, but I would have put more descriptions in it. Anyway, the use of literary technical devices (as Bellow was aware of this) for making the prose alive is superb. A story as this had to be told in the First Person narrative voice. The novel is mostly retrospective, and the speaker, Charlie Citrine, the typical consonant/dissonant narrator. One begins to read it and seems like a dreary ocean of words: there are no chapter numbers, anything but spaces, to tell you that something had just been said. Anyway, these spaces separate the meditations of Charlie on Von Humboldt, his many women, some major parts of his life... like pauses, from one thought or remembrance to the another... But what is the present of this novel that takes us to review Citrine's life since the 1930s? You really can't easily find it, but the 'narrative present' consists only of four months (from December 1973 to April 1974). The rest of the novel's temporal structure lingers between the 1930-40s (when Citrine's friend, von Humboldt, was at the peak of his career), the 1950s and from there on. So, much happens during the four winter months of 1973-1974, but is little told, because the account of the past will complete it all... His remembering of his past, Charlie Citrine's own account, its furious and full of anecdotes, and Bellow's continuous scene changes help us to be entertained permanently. Not expect to find an ordered restrospective of a life here: the book is quite inductive, built from particular bits to finally give a whole panorama of a life. Memories come and go, and later are completed we happen to be reading a passage in 1956, but then we are back to 1974, and then back to WWII time. Past events are simply evoked through the exercise of voluntarily recalled memories: Bellow collects them as they are pertinent to the story, bit by bit, so you don't know everything until you have read the whole book. So why to read this book that seems so monstrous in size and so difficult at first glance? Well, it's worth the tour through America's last 60 years of existence. And it's also a way to understand better Saul Bellow, as a writer, an intellectual and a human being. There is so much faith and hope in this book that you can compare to Henderson The Rain King or The Adventures of Augie March, both picaresque-like. It's a page-turner, something rare to find in a pure literature roman. And not that boring (not in theme, but in prose), as The Victim, or Dangling Man. But among all, it's beautiful, because is us, humans, and Bellow knows how depict our flaws and virtues in an almost unnoticed manner he is a master of depicting naturally human life. Writers physically die, but prevail in their books. Joseph Brodsky once said that the battle against time was always going to be won by writers and poets. Saul Bellow, who passed out in 2005, has prevailed. This is not a book to relax is one to read and enjoy, because an individual's life story is not relaxing in fact, can be dissappointing.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 28, 2006
This is the first Saul Bellows book I have read. I chose it based on a review in _Bookmarks_ magazine. I wonder if his other works are more promising. This dreary story of a supposed-intellectual is verbose, haughty, meandering and boring. I forced myself through, hoping and waiting for a great literary moment, but none came. I skipped all the New Age-y rantings, and found that characters were clumsily added and dropped. The only character with whom I sympathized was an abandoned little boy, whose character was only a brief backdrop. Don't waste your money on this one -- just borrow it from the library, if you must tackle this Pulitzer-prize winner.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 11, 2008
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Posted December 13, 2008
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