The Nobel laureate's second trade paperback original (following A Theft ) is a flabby novella that interweaves, and never resolves, two discrete themes. The aging, lonely and nostalgic narrator, a memory specialist, summons from the past the book's story within a story concerning his onetime acquaintance, Jewish refugee Harry Fonstein. Saved from the hands of the Nazis by an Italian underground movement spearheaded by Broadway showman Billy Rose, Fonstein immigrates to America, where he prospers--in business and in his marriage to an obese and brilliant woman. But his obsessive efforts to thank Rose are thwarted by the charismatic yet obnoxious, even deviant personality. Readers who yearn for more on the piquant WW II Bellarosa operation, or on the unsavory doings of Rose, are likewise frustrated by Bellow's characteristic philosophical digressions--savvy but ultimately self-indulgent--on Jewish assimilation in America, memory, friendship and aging: ``I couldn't bring myself to go to bed just yet. One does grow weary of taking care of this man-sized doll, the elderly retiree, giving him his pills, pulling on his socks, spooning up his cornflakes, shaving his face, seeing to it that he gets his sleep.'' 125,000 first printing; $60,000 ad/promo. (Oct.)
A literary giant, Saul Bellow loomed large over writers attempting the Great American Novel, since many would argue that he has already achieved this feat at least once over. He was considered a foremost chronicler of the Jewish-American post-war experience, but the "human understanding and subtle analysis of contemporary culture that are combined in his work" are what won him the Nobel, and helped him transcend cultural and national borders.
Praised for his vision, his ear for detail, his humor, and the masterful artistry of his prose, Saul Bellow was born of Russian Jewish parents in Lachine, Quebec in 1915, and was raised in Chicago. He received his Bachelor's degree from Northwestern University in 1937, with honors in sociology and anthropology, and did graduate work at the University of Wisconsin. During the Second World War he served in the Merchant Marines.
His first two novels, Dangling Man (1944) and The Victim (1947) are penetrating, Kafka-like psychological studies. In 1948 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and spent two years in Paris and traveling in Europe, where he began his picaresque novel The Adventures of Augie March, which went on to win the National Book Award for fiction in 1954. His later books of fiction include Seize the Day (1956); Henderson the Rain King (1959); Mosby's Memoirs and Other Stories (1968); Mr. Sammler's Planet (1970); Humboldt's Gift (1975), which won the Pulitzer Prize; The Dean's December (1982); More Die of Heartbreak (1987);Theft (1988); The Bellarosa Connection (1989); The Actual (1996); and, most recently, Ravelstein (2000). Bellow has also produced a prolific amount of non-fiction, collected in To Jerusalem and Back, a personal and literary record of his sojourn in Israel during several months in 1975, and It All Adds Up, a collection of memoirs and essays.
Bellow's many awards included the International Literary Prize for Herzog, for which he became the first American to receive the prize; the Croix de Chevalier des Arts et Lettres, the highest literary distinction awarded by France to non-citizens; the B'nai B'rith Jewish Heritage Award for "excellence in Jewish Literature"; and America's Democratic Legacy Award of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, the first time this award has been made to a literary personage. In 1976 Bellow was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature "for the human understanding and subtle analysis of contemporary culture that are combined in his work."
Bellow passed away on April 5, 2005 at the age of 89.