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Saul Bellow's Heart: A Son's Memoir

Saul Bellow's Heart: A Son's Memoir

by Greg Bellow

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In this warm, affectionate, yet strikingly honest memoir, Greg Bellow offers a unique look inside the life of his father, one of America's greatest twentieth-century writers. Saul Bellow, the famous but fiercely private Nobel Prize winner, was known to be quick to anger and prone to argument, but he shared a tender bond with Greg, his firstborn.

In Saul Bellow


In this warm, affectionate, yet strikingly honest memoir, Greg Bellow offers a unique look inside the life of his father, one of America's greatest twentieth-century writers. Saul Bellow, the famous but fiercely private Nobel Prize winner, was known to be quick to anger and prone to argument, but he shared a tender bond with Greg, his firstborn.

In Saul Bellow's Heart, Greg gives voice to a side of Saul unknown to most, the “young Saul”-emotionally accessible, often soft, with a set of egalitarian social values and the ability to laugh at the world's folly and at himself. Saul's accessibility and lightheartedness waned as he aged, and his social views hardened. This is the “old Saul” most well known to the world, and these changes taxed the relationship between Bellow and his son, now an adult, so sorely that Greg often worried that it wouldn't survive. But theirs were differences of mind, not of the heart.

Interweaving memories, personal stories, and autobiographical references in Saul's books on which he can shed a unique light, Greg Bellow reveals himself to be a fine prose stylist and never shies away from the truth about his father.

Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post - Jonathan Yardley
…the testimony of a son who loved his father but was in effect deserted by him over much of their shared lifetimes, who treasured his memories of their father-son relationship when both were young but in time came to resent…those "dozens of self-appointed sons and daughters" who attached themselves to the world-famous, post-Nobel Prize Bellow…[Gregory] has tried to be both honest about and fair to his father in Saul Bellow's Heart and has largely succeeded, but he also acknowledges that there are things in this book that his father would not like, chief among them perhaps that he subjects Saul Bellow to precisely the kind of close scrutiny to which Saul subjected the real men and women who became fictional characters in his work.
Publishers Weekly
This sometimes emotionally distant, often clinically written, and unabashedly straightforward memoir from the eldest son of Saul Bellow reveals the "inner life" of a storming personality as Bellow comes to terms with the contradicting versions of the father he knew. Reading through many obituaries following his father's death, the young Bellow sees a man he doesn't quite recognize and sets out, through a retelling of family history and re-reading his father's letters, novels, plays, and stories, to recover the ""young Saul," the rebellious, irreverent, and ambitious man who raised ," who was also "emotionally accessible, often soft, and possessed the ability to laugh at the world and at himself." Bellow recounts the closeness he felt to his father during his childhood—"y father a kid who never grew up… and who understood my feelings"—and the ways life fell apart at age eight when his father and mother separated, then divorced. As Saul Bellow grows older, his ideas and attitudes harden, creating a near-impenetrable discord between father and son; looking back, however, the young Bellow realizes that this "cold war between my father and me" was simply a "struggle between two men… who loved one another and sought to keep their relationship alive." Writing this memoir, the young Bellow admits, has "brought "closer to the ‘old Saul'… once found alien and intimidating," and created a "delightful new connection" with his father. (Apr.)
From the Publisher

Saul Bellow's Heart is a fascinating personal document written with much sympathy, yet an admirable candor, by Bellow's eldest son Gregory, a psychotherapist. It is a portrait of the artist at close quarters, and at a little distance; a confirmation of the deep autobiographical roots of Bellow's fiction; and a revelation of what it means to be a child, in this case one of three sons, of the most lavishly acclaimed American writer of the second half of the 20th century.” —Joyce Carol Oates

“Nuanced, moving, and idiosyncratic, with an unpredictable ending.” —New York Review of Books

“Greg Bellow's new memoir, Saul Bellow's Heart, now stands as the single most important book for those of us who have long wondered what his famous father was really like . . . . For better and worse, there's no stronger account of the life and times of the great writer than this one that was written by his own flesh and blood.” —The Jewish Daily Forward

“Lovers of Bellow's novels will find familiar things illuminated in a different light. This is a book of nuances. And for a writer who looms as large as Saul Bellow, we can value its insights.” —San Francisco Chronicle

Saul Bellow's Heart is written with love mixed with vexation and frustration rather than with anger or resentment.” —Washington Post

“Greg has done something complicated and remarkable. He has spared none of the unsavory parts of his father's character and still enabled us to understand why this man could generate, throughout his life, so much love. Greg expresses anger along the way--this book does not pull punches with the characters who moved through Bellow's life--without the rancorous bitterness that suggests still unsettled reflections. Greg has opened his own heart. If there is any truth to the old adage that you judge a parent by the child, Greg is a testimonial.” —Los Angeles Review of Books

“[A] balanced exposé of a Nobel Prize-winning author whose memorable, fallible narrators closely resemble Saul Bellow at various stages of his emotional and intellectual lives…Bellow's oeuvre has been examined many times by literary critics and biographers, but his son has unique insights into the author's heart, born of long conversations over many years about topics that a less liberal parent would have avoided.” —Christian Science Monitor

“In Saul Bellow's Heart, which weaves memories and feelings with a discussion of Bellow's novels, the son sets out to reveal the human being concealed inside the literary lion. The memoir accomplishes this beautifully. Engaging and well-composed.” —Washinton Independent Review of Books

“Greg is capable of showing great sympathy and reserve of judgment when discussing Saul, who required exorbitant portions of both--and often demanded more still.” —New York Observer

“Saul Bellow was an incandescent being, and also incandescently difficult. Greg Bellow has written a wrenchingly candid account of being his son -- a real son, not a literary son: there is no self-invention here, there is only self-discovery. I was deeply moved by Greg Bellow's memoir of his passage from pain to acceptance. Amid the brutalities of love he has found its blessing.” —Leon Wieseltier

“Affectionate but candid and at times brutally painful and honest, Saul Bellow's Heart reveals much about Saul and his oldest son. In writing this memoir Greg forges a final link between them, the act of writing and connecting again to a father whom he now knows more fully if less privately. For readers interested in both Saul Bellow and the complexities of father-son relationships, this memoir is revealing and rewarding.” —Jewish Book Council

“Fondness doesn't lead to blindness in these pages: Thoughtful analysis and understanding are hallmarks throughout…A passionate book by a man with his own strong opinions.” —Washington Times

“Unabashedly straightforward.” —Publishers Weekly

“[A] richly personal portrait…Replete with compelling inside-literature tales, this is a loving and exacting remembrance of a ‘literary lion.'” —Booklist

“Bittersweet . . . Replete with intimate anecdotes and insightful glimpses into the autobiographical aspects of the elder Bellow's fiction.” —Library Journal

“Bellow scholars will be arguing about Saul Bellow's Heart for three hundred years.” —Gloria Cronin, Editor, Saul Bellow Journal

Library Journal
This bittersweet memoir by Greg Bellow, a psychotherapist by training and the firstborn son of Nobel Prize-winner Saul Bellow, is replete with intimate anecdotes and insightful glimpses into the autobiographical aspects of the elder Bellow's fiction (e.g., The Adventures of Augie March; Herzog). The son attempts to come to grips with his father's legacy, and their often strained relationship. "Old Saul's" complexity and numerous flaws—he could be selfish, thin-skinned, and taciturn—are considered in full here by the son. He writes of Saul's later years and of the time after his death, organizing and recording those memories before they fade further, examining the boundaries so tenaciously held between the artist's public and private lives, the literary hero and the increasingly difficult, distanced father. VERDICT Bellow's memoir, "as full and as honest a written portrait as I can render," judiciously makes its case. Memoir readers will appreciate the accessible prose and the narrative's straightforward, chronological organization. Also recommended for readers interested in the work of Saul Bellow.—Patrick A. Smith, Bainbridge Coll., GA
Kirkus Reviews
There is love within this memoir by the son of the Nobel Prize–winning novelist, but there is even greater distance. A Freudian psychotherapist and academic, the author generally resists the temptation to analyze his famous father in the manner of a psychobiography. But neither does he add much revelation to what readers already knew or suspected, mainly that the writer who was arguably the greatest novelist of his generation could be difficult and selfish as a family man. He also used his failed marriages as grist for the mill of many of his greatest novels, with the son (who read those novels in succession before writing this memoir) showing where he thinks the voice and experience of the fictional narrators were very much the novelist's. As the only child of Bellow's first marriage, the author admits that "Saul's departure split my life in two," and that the divide deepened as the battles intensified between his parents (largely over money during the course and aftermath of the divorce). As someone who remained true to the leftist politics that his father famously repudiated (and from which his mother never wavered), he makes a distinction between the "young Saul" with whom he identified and the increasingly conservative, repressive, death-obsessed man his father became. The culture wars from the 1960s onward found father and son on opposite sides, while personal affronts (an ailing Saul's failure to attend his granddaughter's wedding, the antipathy between his final wife and widow and his sons) deepened the gulf. The author writes from what he says is a need "for a portrait that reveals Saul's complex nature, one written by a loving son who also knew his shortcomings." Ultimately, the memoir reveals more about how it felt to be the son of such a father than it does about the novelist.

Product Details

Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.80(d)

Meet the Author

Gregory Bellow, PhD, was a psychoanalytically oriented psychotherapist for forty years and remains a member of the Core Faculty of The Sanville Institute. He lives in Redwood City, California.

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