The Victimby Saul Bellow
Bellow's second novel charts the descent into paranoia of Asa Leventhal, sub-editor of a trade magazine. With his wife away visiting her mother, Asa is alone, but not for long. His sister-in-law summons him to Staten Island to help with his sick nephew. Other demands mount, and readers witness a man losing control. See more details below
Bellow's second novel charts the descent into paranoia of Asa Leventhal, sub-editor of a trade magazine. With his wife away visiting her mother, Asa is alone, but not for long. His sister-in-law summons him to Staten Island to help with his sick nephew. Other demands mount, and readers witness a man losing control.
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Meet the Author
Saul Bellow was praised for his vision, his ear for detail, his humor, and the masterful artistry of his prose. Born of Russian Jewish parents in Lachine, Quebec in 1915, he 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); Ravelstein (2000); and, most recently, Collected Stories(2001). 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 include 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."
- Date of Birth:
- June 10, 1915
- Date of Death:
- April 5, 2005
- Place of Birth:
- Lachine, Quebec, Canada
- Place of Death:
- Brookline, Massachusetts
- University of Chicago, 1933-35; B.S., Northwestern University, 1937
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The 1950s for Saul Bellow were glorious years in terms of creativity: in a relatively short time, he produced the sprawling The Adventures of Augie March followed by the compact masterpiece Seize the Day. The 40s for Bellow though were ruminant years, where his work took on a seriousness and solemnity that was shucked off later when he developed his big city pace and conversational writing style. The Victim, along with The Dangling Man, was a product of the 40s. Very early on, anyone who has read a sufficient amount of Bellow will notice a difference in the style. For one thing, it describes people walking from point a to point b. In his later books, he'd jump around forward and backwards in time, but rarely dwell on the staging of his scenes. Here, he's very concerned about how his protagonist gets across town and so on. The story centers on Asa Leventhal, a middle-class trade journal editor who tries his best to keep a stiff upper lip and rarely experiences the highs and lows that Bellow's later creation Augie March does. In one of the early chapters, it is described how close Leventhal came to pursuing a career in civil services, then is thankful he bowed out of it. The novel packs a bizarre fate for Leventhal though, as a walking civil-service case ends up showing up at his door, and everywhere else for that matter. The man's name is Kirby Allbee, and he believes Leventhal is responsible for him losing his job several years ago. Allbee attributes much of the recent hardships he's faced to this loss, and demands some sort of reckoning or remuneration from Leventhal. What makes matters worse is that Allbee is an unflagging anti-semite and Leventhal is Jewish. That's the premise of the book, and I won't give more of the plot away. The theme of The Victim deals, on one level, with anti-semitism, but on another with racism as a whole. It takes the uncommon road though and explores the way in which it's sometimes the victims' attitudes that exacerbate the racial divide. Plainly, Leventhal is the victim of Allbee's anti-semitism, but on another, Allbee is the victim of the victim, as Leventhal so frequently treats Allbee with disgust without pausing to empathize with him. There's no validity to racism, but sometimes we have to make allowances to the confused. So if you're looking for a serious book that's quite depressing but ultimately enlightening, check out The Victim.
The story of Asa Leventhal and Kirby Alley is one I have returned to many times over the years. The writing is spare, the dialogue pitch perfect, and the situations beautifully realized. I sympathize with Asa and his unwillingess to be held accountable for Kirby's failures, although Kirby is not without appeal of his own. If you are only familiar with the Bellow of 'Herzog' or 'Henderson the Rain King' or 'Humboldt's Gift,' this novel will come as something of a revelation. Much closer in tone and spirit to the equally spare and great 'Seize the Day.'